By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Dawn Crim, head of Gov. Tony Evers’ dysfunctional Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) is stepping down. She’s getting out just before a legislative task force holds a public hearing into the massive backlog of professional licenses at the bungling state agency.
In a joint press release with Evers, Crim did not state why she is resigning.
State Rep. Shae Sortwell (R-Two Rivers), who has been leading legislative investigations into the disorder at DSPS, says Crim is leaving before the depth of the dysfunction is fully exposed.
Sortwell said he thinks the Evers administration learned of a public hearing he and Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Tomahawk) are planning in the next few weeks to find out where things stand with the troubled agency. According to Sortwell’s staff, Crim’s resignation takes effect the day before the special committee hearing is scheduled to take place.
“We’re still going to hold the hearing,” Sortwell said. “The last time we held a hearing, Secretary Crim didn’t bother to show up anyway.”
That hearing was conducted in March by the Assembly’s Licensing Regulatory Reform Committee, which Sortwell chairs. Dozens of professionals and advocacy organizations testified to the mess that is DSPS.
“The current situation is creating chaos.” – Dennis Kaster, president of the American Physical Therapy Association, testified at the time, speaking to a credential backlog that has kept license seekers waiting as much as a year or more for their renewals and license applications to be processed.
Empower Wisconsin has obtained complaints from dozens of professionals — from psychologists and social workers to security professionals — who have experienced the same kinds of bureaucratic nightmares as the tens of thousands of jobless Wisconsinites stuck in Evers’ incompetent Department of Workforce Development. Many say DSPS left them on hold for hours, lost their paperwork, and failed to update their files. The story is the same over and over again: DSPS is quick to cash their checks, very slow to process their license applications.
Crim came to the position under the shadow of a past felony child abuse charge after stabbing her young son’s hand with a pen several times. The 2005 charge was dismissed under a deferred prosecution agreement.
Facing lingering concerns about her management skills, the Republican-controlled Senate had yet to hold a vote on her confirmation as DSPS secretary. She leaves the post as Evers secretary-designee.
In the statement, Crim praised her efforts to update the agency’s outdated systems, a process that has been gruellingly slow.
“After more than ten years of operating with disparate processes and policies, DSPS is now a unified agency focused on ensuring safety and supporting the economy,” she said.
The work is far from over.
In late April, DSPS went dark for a few weeks to transition to an electronic filing system. Only documents from some of the many professions the agency regulates were transferred at the time. Other licenses (initial applications and renewals) will transition to the LicensE system in subsequent phases.
Frustratingly, Evers’ agency sat on $5 million the Legislature marked for DSPS improvement until recently. Sortwell said he doesn’t think the money has been spent yet.
“We expect DSPS to apply these funds immediately and erase the hold-up for license holders,” said Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) and Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green), co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee. “The department could have requested these funds at any time throughout the last year and we are disappointed it has taken them this long to improve the licensure process. Our citizens deserve better.”
Evers effusively praised Crim, calling her “absolutely critical” to his administration.
Sortwell said such high praise underscores the governor’s failure of leadership over the past 3 1/2 years.
“To me, this is completely on Evers because he doesn’t understand what a complete failure his departments have been,” Sortwell said. “I don’t think he’s running his own departments. He’s like Joe Biden at the state level where he doesn’t have a clue what his departments are doing.”