What Kind of Umpire Is the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission?

The Social Psychology of Organizing (Weick 1979) is a classic, cited more more than 12,700 times according to Google Scholar. The book opens with a series of vignettes about organizational events. One of my favorites is about balls and strikes:

“The story goes that three umpires disagreed about the task of calling balls and strikes. The first one said, ‘I calls them as they is.’ The second one said, ‘I calls them as I sees them.’ The third and cleverest umpire said, ‘They ain’t nothin’ till I calls them.'” (Simons 1976: 29 as cited in Weick 1979: 1).

What are we to make of this quote? Of course a number of interpretations are possible. But one straightforward interpretation is that the three umpires operate from different ontologies. Or as Michel Callon (1998) proposed: ontologies vary. In this case, the first umpire might be called a positivist; the second an interpretivist; the third a constructivist. Or to be more alliterative: realist, relativist and relationalist.

I thought of this illustration while reading StateImpact Pennsylvania’s description of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC). Among other things the PUC is responsible for assessing fees on spud unconventional gas wells under Act 13 of 2012. In this regard, Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, “who shaped the majority of the impact fee, has said he envisions the commission serving as an umpire, ‘calling the balls and strikes’ of whether local regulations fit within the law’s framework.”

That got me thinking: Just what kind of umpire is the PUC?

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