House Republicans Seek GAO Probe of FCC Enforcement

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By Lydia Beyoud

Oct. 23 — Top House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans want the Government Accountability Office to rake the Federal Communications Commission Enforcement Bureau over the coals for its management practices.

In an Oct. 23 letter to the GAO, committee chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and subcommittee vice chairman Bob Latta (R-Ohio) asked the nonpartisan watchdog agency to take a comprehensive look at a bureau that many lawmakers and industry insiders say has become far more aggressive recently.

With bureau chief Travis LeBlanc at the helm, the FCC enforcement arm has levied a series of record-breaking fines in recent months against big and small telecommunications companies alike. The bureau repeatedly has drawn fire from the commission's two Republicans.

Under a draft Senate bill to reauthorize the FCC, companies would be allowed to forgo paying enforcement fines before appealing an Enforcement Bureau decision (110 DER A-15, 6/9/15).

The House Republicans said their request comes as part of the Communications and Technology panel's ongoing oversight of the FCC, according to a news release. The letter tees up the issue ahead of a Nov. 17 FCC oversight hearing at which all five commissioners have been invited to testify.

Upton, Walden and Latta faulted the Enforcement Bureau for seeming to focus on the monetary value of proposed penalties “as the sole measure of the program's effectiveness,” despite what the lawmakers said was the GAO's prior recommendation that the FCC develop and implement performance management practices.

The GOP trio also singled out the backlog of consumer complaints related to violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 as a failure to execute the FCC's consumer privacy mandate.

The lawmakers asked the GAO to examine whether the bureau is “meeting its mission of protecting the consumer, ensuring public safety, and encouraging competition,” among other matters.

The FCC is reviewing the letter, but otherwise declined to comment, an FCC spokesman told Bloomberg BNA.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lydia Beyoud in Washington at lbeyoud@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine in Washington at kperine@bna.com