The Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) is upgrading its professional licensing process, which included the launch of a new online licensing dashboard.
Gov. Tony Evers’ office said the launch builds on previous work to improve licensing efficiency at the department through limited-term and project positions, reorganizing and contracting staff to support the department’s call center.
During the pandemic, DSPS saw delays and extended wait times for those seeking professional licenses, including construction and trade workers. The delays prompted Republican lawmakers this year to launch a department audit. Meanwhile, the legislative finance committee allowed less than a quarter of new DSPS positions Evers asked for in his latest budget proposal.
According to the LicensE dashboard, turnaround for new occupational license applicants was down to around four days. As of late August, the department issued more than 38,000 licenses in 2023, according to a news release.
Evers praised his administration for its efforts to modernize the DSPS process.
“I’m proud of our administration’s ongoing efforts to ensure state government works for everyone, including modernizing outdated processes and systems, reducing barriers and improving efficiency so Wisconsinites across our state can get help and access critical services when they need it most,” Evers said in a news release.
Last year, the state launched LicensE to maximize efficiency in the credentialing process and reduce barriers to applicants. In May, the application took on architects, engineers in training and designers of engineering systems in its cloud system.
According to Evers, to date this year, Wisconsin issued nearly 200% more licenses than it did in the same period in 2018.
Dan Hereth, secretary-designee of DSPS, said he was pleased but not surprised with the new data.
“We’re very proud of the work our staff has done to modernize our systems and improve the experience for those applying for an occupational license in Wisconsin. We’re excited to provide applicants with meaningful information to help them plan for and drive their application process. I’m also very pleased, although not at all surprised, that the data shows the efficiencies we’ve put in place over the past year are paying dividends for Wisconsin and our professional license applicants,” Hereth said in a statement.
The governor’s office said the current staffing at DSPS is maintained by emergency federal funding allocated during the pandemic, and added once money runs out it will be up to the Wisconsin Legislature to approve staff to remain at its current level.
DSPS is funded almost exclusively by revenue generated through its permits and professional license fees, officials said. The department can’t use the revenue to hire more staff or improve its technology without approval from the Legislature, officials added.
Evers used federal pandemic relief funds to invest in DSPS in recent years, officials said. He announced on Thursday he would commit more federal pandemic relief funding to keep additional positions in DSPS staff through 2024. The federal funds will expire at the end of the year, officials added.
DSPS will need the Legislature’s approval to keep its staffing at current levels when funding runs out at the end of calendar year of 2024, officials stated.
“Critical investments we’ve made have helped enable DSPS to significantly improve license processing and response times. These results clearly show that if we want the important work improving the licensing process and these positive outcomes to continue, the Legislature must give the department the staffing and resource capacity that everyone knows they need,” Evers said.
Planning for federal funding expiration, the governor on Thursday announced he officially requested the Legislature to authorize the department to retain its current staffing so its progress wouldn’t be affected by a lapse in resources. Officials said the new data shows the increased staffing is needed to meet the department’s current workload.
According to the governor’s office, DSPS will have fewer credential employees when federal funding runs out because of the staffing additions the Legislature approved in June. The office warned of “serious negative impacts” on licensing and processing times if lawmakers turn down the request.