Reform and speed up permitting process for businesses

Will "reform the permitting process to require state agencies to review permit applications within 60 days of receipt. If the application is not approved or denied by the agency within 180 days of receipt, the application will be presumed approved."


Numerous examples show improvements

Not all campaign promises sizzle and inspire.

Scott Walker's vision of a more efficient bureaucracy, enunciated as a candidate for governor in 2010, probably falls into that category.

"Reform the permitting process to require state agencies to review permit applications within 60 days of receipt," Walker pledged on his campaign site. "If the application is not approved or denied by the agency within 180 days of receipt, the application will be presumed approved."

Exciting or not, the time spent on getting decisions from state government can be a big issue for all sorts of people. Some permit applicants complain about delays, while critics worry that state oversight of, for instance, environmental protection, can be harmed if agencies speed up approvals.

To address what he saw as needless delays, Walker set up a "lean government" initiative that involved training hundreds of employees in continuous improvement principles under the Lean Six Sigma program. Lean Six Sigma is most often used by private companies, seeking leaner and more efficient operations.

Walker signed an executive order in 2012 ordering various state agencies to participate in the effort to eliminate waste, save time, standardize workflow, and decrease process complexity.

A component of this was changes aimed at speeding up processing of various permits and other applications that are the lifeblood of bureaucratic work.

Walker's agencies have reported numerous specific results, including:

-- Grant applicants to the state Department of Natural Resource's "Clean Boats Clean Waters Project" typically are waiting 14 business days instead of 90 to find out if their application was successful.

-- The state's Green Tier environmental program eliminated some hoops and combined others to meet or exceed the 60-day time goal.

-- DNR Law Enforcement staff cut the processing time for annual law enforcement credentials from more than six months down to 30-60 days.

-- DNR fisheries staff created a new permit for large woody fish habitat projects in Wisconsin lakes, cutting the review time from 62 days to 30 days.

-- DNR Water staff "redesigned the high capacity well permit process by simplifying the data entry to eliminate redundancies and enhancing tracking to provide more consistent and predictable timelines," the DNR said. "The improvements are expected to reduce the time spent on each application by 39 percent."

Other agencies have made similar changes, according to Walker's compilation of actions taken by his departments.

So there's ample evidence of reforms and expedited review.

Has the governor taken the specific step mentioned in his promise of ordering that applications that are not processed within 180 days are presumed approved?

He has gotten behind that concept, signing 2011 Act 167 declaring that certain waterways permits are considered to be approved if the DNR fails to meet the deadline for taking final action. The waterways law deals with dredging, bridge or culvert construction and other changes to navigable waterways.

In addition, Walker signed 2011 Act 118, which regulates the process for allowing the filling in of wetlands.

Under that law, the DNR "must issue" developers a decision on the individual permit application within 20 days after the period for public comment ends if a hearing is held, or within 30 days after the public comment period ends if a hearing is not held.

In sum, it's clear that Walker, with some help from Republicans in the Legislature, has succeeded in streamlining the review process on a variety of permits, some within the 60 days in his promise.

Similarly, he's put into place expedited drop-dead dates for DNR on approving waterways permits that require the agency to approve them if officials don't make a decision under the deadlines.

Walker's lean government initiative has not reached into every corner of state government, but it is still going and plans are in place to continue to ratchet down the amount of time needed to approve permits.

We think the results already rate this a Promise Kept.


Office of Scott Walker, website documentation on "Lean Government Initiative," accessed Oct. 22,2013

Office of Scott Walker, Lean II Final Report, accessed October 2013

Wisconsin Legislative Council, Informational Memo, 2011 Wisconsin Act 167, April 17, 2012

Wisconsin Legislative Council, Informational Memo, 2011 Wisconsin Act 118, March 22, 2012

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Wetlands bill streamlines DNR procedures," Jan. 7, 2012

Email interview with Bill Cosh, Department of Natural Resources spokesperson, Oct. 29, 2013

Email interview with Tom Evenson, press secretary, Office of Governor Scott Walker, Oct. 24, 2013