Batjer Leaving GovOps, to Head CPUC Board

The veteran government leader will wrap up her assignments this month, including the DMV Strike Team, before assuming leadership of the state's public utilities regulator.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday that veteran government leader Marybel Batjer will leave her position as secretary of the state Government Operations Agency to become the new president of the California Public Utilities Commission.

Michael Picker, who had led the utilities board since 2014, announced in May that he’d be resigning.  

“Marybel’s deep experience in government administration and sound judgment make her uniquely qualified to take on this important role,” Newsom said in a statement. “I am confident she will protect the best interest of all Californians by challenging utilities to embrace reform while providing safe, reliable and affordable service.”

The announcement about Batjer was made in conjunction with Newsom’s signing on Friday of a complex $26 billion wildfire liability bill, an outgrowth of the devastating fires in the state last year. It was those fires, and the utility’s underlying maintenance history of power lines and other transmission infrastructure, that thrust PG&E into the spotlight.

Since Newsom’s election, Batjer has been a go-to member of his inner circle. In January, he gave her a six-month special assignment to assemble a Strike Team and investigate and solve the problems plaguing the Department of Motor Vehicles. That assignment is wrapping up, and the findings and recommendations are expected this month.

Also under her purview at GovOps was Newsom’s ambitious overhaul of the state’s IT innovation apparatus, with a new Office of Digital Innovation coming directly under the GovOps aegis. Previously, the state’s IT innovation initiative was under the California Department of Technology, which is under the GovOps umbrella.

As CPUC president, Batjer will lead the five-member regulatory body that regulates "investor-owned electric, natural gas, telecommunications, water, railroad, rail transit and passenger transportation companies,” says an explainer in this year’s CPUC annual report. “The CPUC holds business meetings at least once a month throughout the state to discuss and vote on issues that require a formal decision by the CPUC.” The commission’s budget for fiscal 2018-19 is almost $348 million.

The CPUC did not respond to email and voicemail requests for comment Friday.   

As the first secretary of GovOps, Batjer “has led forward-looking efforts to revamp the way the state approaches data and technology, modernized the civil service system, and has led the implementation of key initiatives to green state government and promote renewable energy,” the Governor’s Office said in its announcement.

Batjer will close out her DMV Strike Team assignment, which has already implemented some changes in the beleaguered agency, before moving on. In appointing Batjer to lead the Strike Team, Newsom called her “one of the most accomplished management experts in state government.” The team is expected to issue its findings, changes and recommendations by the end of the month.

Before taking the top job at GovOps in 2013, Batjer was vice president for Public Policy and Corporate Social Responsibility for Caesars Entertainment Inc., counseling the senior executive team during a public merger on issues pertaining to reputation management and public policy. Batjer, 64, also served as Cabinet secretary to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger from 2003 to 2005; chief of staff to Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn from 2000 to 2003; and undersecretary at the California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency from 1997 to 1998. In her GovOps role, Batjer won numerous awards, including Governing Magazine’s* national 2017 Public Official of the Year.

Batjer, 64, was chief deputy director of the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing from 1992 to 1997 and special assistant to the U.S. secretary of the Navy from 1989 to 1992. She was a national security affairs special assistant for President Ronald Reagan and deputy executive secretary for the National Security Council from 1987 to 1989. Batjer was assistant to the U.S. secretary of defense and deputy secretary of defense from 1981 to 1987, and director of political planning for the National Women’s Political Caucus from 1980 to 1981.

Batjer’s appointment requires Senate confirmation, and the compensation is $219,000. She is a Democrat.

Next in line in GovOps leadership is Undersecretary Julie Lee.  Before her current role, Lee was director of operations for Gov. Jerry Brown since 2013. Previously, she had been a public information manager for the California Department of Transportation and held several roles with the California Department of Personnel Administration from 2005 to 2009.

*Governing is part of e.Republic, Techwire's parent company.

Dennis Noone is Managing Editor of Techwire. He is a career journalist, having worked as a reporter and editor at small-town newspapers and major metropolitan dailies in California, Nevada, Texas and Virginia, including as an editor with USA Today in Washington, D.C. He lives in the Northern California foothills.