|Budget Issue:||Make two Certified Access Specialist positions limited term. Maintain oversight of program.|
|Finding or Recommendation:||Alter the Governor's January proposal for five permanent positions at the Division of the State Architect by making two of the positions limited-term. Maintain oversight of the Certified Access Specialist program to ensure program outcomes meet legislative goals.|
Certified Access Specialists. A Certified Access Specialist (CASp) is an individual licensed by the state to evaluate the accessibility of buildings. A business may hire a CASp to identify improvements necessary to comply with federal and state accessibility laws. Since 2009, state law provides special protections to businesses inspected and certified to meet accessibility standards by a CASp. Specifically, if such a business is subject to an accessibility claim, the owner is eligible for an early evaluation conference prior to litigation. In order to be a CASp, an individual must meet minimum education and experience requirements, pass an examination, and pay certification and renewal fees.
Administration of the CASp Program. The Division of the State Architect (DSA) within the Department of General Services (DGS) operates the CASp program. The DSA’s responsibilities include processing CASp applications, developing and administering CASp examinations, reviewing renewal applications, and maintaining a list of certified specialists. The DSA also is authorized to perform periodic audits of work performed by CASps and to suspend certification or deny renewal of certification. In 2012-13, DSA operates the program with 1.5 positions and about $290,000 in expenditures. The program is funded from the fees collected for the program application ($500), exam ($800), original certification ($300), and certification renewal ($500).
Recent Legislation Seeks to Enhance CASp Program. Chapter 383, Statutes of 2012 (SB 1186, Steinberg), made several changes to the state’s accessibility laws, including several related to the CASp program. First, Chapter 383 caps the statutory damages for accessibility violations at businesses inspected and certified by a CASp, further expanding the protections provided to businesses that utilize CASps. Recognizing that this provision would increase demand for CASps, the bill also made changes intended to increase the quantity and skills of CASps. Specifically, Chapter 383 provides additional funding to DSA to:
To fund all of these activities, the legislation imposes a $1 charge on all business licenses issued or renewed in the state from 2013 through 2018. The local government that issues the business licenses retains 70 percent of the revenue from the charge to increase local compliance with accessibility laws, with a focus on increasing the number of local government building and planning officials with CASp certification. The local governments are required to send the remaining 30 percent of the revenue to DSA to use for oversight of the CASp program. The DGS estimates that DSA will receive about $900,000 annually from its share of the business license revenue.
The Governor proposes five new positions at DSA to carry out the activities outlined in Chapter 383. The new positions would be funded with revenue from the new charge on business licenses at a cost of $532,000 in 2013-14 and $483,000 annually thereafter.
Workload Should Decrease Over Time. The DSA will have a significant increase in workload to meet the requirements and goals in Chapter 383. For example, the department must create new educational materials and develop a system for collecting and tracking business license revenue from local governments. Over time, however, workload will decrease as these start-up activities are completed. For example, updating educational materials will require less staff time than developing those materials, and tracking revenue should become easier once procedures and systems are in place.
Fees Appear Excessive. The original legislation that created the CASp program directed DSA to set fees at a level sufficient to cover its costs. In each year, however, fee revenues exceeded actual expenditures, yet DSA did not reduce program fees. As a result, the Governor’s budget estimates a reserve of $864,000 at the end of 2012-13—three times the department’s annual expenditures on the CASp program. With the passage of Chapter 383, DSA reduced the application fee to $150 ($100 below the statutory maximum) for certain occupations to comply with the legislation. The other fees remain the same. Given that fee revenues have exceeded expenditures each year and that one goal of the additional revenue from Chapter 383 is to moderate the expenses of CASp certification, additional fee reductions may be warranted. The examination fee of $800 appears especially high compared to exam fees for other occupational certifications and licenses.
No Focus on Audit and Discipline Function. The workload analysis provided for the five new positions provides little attention to DSA’s role in auditing the performance of CASps and rescinding certifications if necessary. Of the 8,890 hours of annual tasks identified for the five new positions, only 120 are related to this function.
Make Two of the Proposed Positions Limited-Term. Given that the workload will decrease as certain start-up activities are completed, we recommend the Legislature change two of the proposed positions to two-year limited-term positions. Fewer permanent positions also would reduce costs in subsequent years, potentially allowing DSA to maintain lower CASp fees and prepare for the sunset of the business license revenue at the end of 2018.
Consider Additional Changes Depending Upon Priorities. As noted above, Chapter 383 established three objectives for the new revenue directed to the CASp program: (1) increase outreach and educational efforts, (2) carry out audits of CASp performance, and (3) moderate the expense of CASp fees. At this time, however, it appears that DSA is focused on only one of the three objectives outlined in Chapter 383. The five positions would focus almost entirely on education and outreach, while most fees remain the same and little staff time is dedicated to CASp performance review. If the Legislature would like a greater emphasis on these other two activities, it could direct DSA to develop an alternative implementation plan for Chapter 383 or clarify its goals in statute.
Maintain Oversight and Monitor Program Outcomes. Lastly, we recommend the Legislature maintain oversight of the program’s implementation through budget and policy hearings over the next few years. The authorization of the business license revenue represents a substantial investment in this program and the Legislature may want to track how that investment improves outcomes. For example, has the additional funding increased the number of certified CASps? Has the CASp examination passage rate—currently about 25 percent—improved? Are fees comparable with other occupational licensing programs? Additionally, we recommend the Legislature monitor the fund balances in both the Certified Access Specialist Fund (revenues from program fees) and the Disability Access and Education Revolving Fund (revenues from business licenses) to ensure that resources are being allocated to the Legislature’s priorities. For example, to what extent should DSA fund program improvements now as opposed to maintaining reserves to fund program responsibilities beyond the 2018 sunset date.