Process Task Force in Trouble: FCC Commissioner

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By Brandon Ross

July 28 — The FCC’s newly assembled task force assembled to push for changes to the agency's processes is already on track to fall into a “death spiral,” FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said.

The task force is trying to boost transparency at the agency, as well as promote increased participation by commissioners as opposed to staff on certain matters. The group is also looking at complaints that minority-party commissioners are sometimes excluded by the chairman's office from updates on proposals and other information.

O’Rielly, at a July 28 discussion on process overhaul for the Federal Communications Commission, said the task force wouldn't accomplish much if it didn't change direction.

The task force, which was announced by Democratic FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in March, at the urging of Republican O'Rielly, is composed of representatives from each of the five commissioner's offices .

“If the five offices cannot agree on what to do, I’m afraid that [the task force] will fail to offer any action,” O’Rielly said in remarks at the Free State Foundation discussion at the National Press Club.

He said his staff has told him that the task force was struggling to reach agreement on its “mission.”

O'Rielly rebutted claims that the process-overhaul charge was related specifically to the FCC's February Open Internet order, otherwise known as the net neutrality order. Republican policymakers, along with Internet service providers, continue to be outraged over parts of the order, over which the agency is now being sued.

Much of the criticism the agency received in relation to the order was in how processes surrounding the release of the order, both before and after the February vote, were handled.

“I do not view process reform as a revenge for net neutrality,” O'Rielly said, adding later in the discussion: “I’m pushing these separate from net neutrality.”

O'Rielly's Suggestions

O'Rielly made suggestions, many of which he has championed previously, which include calling for the FCC to:

• Release draft proposals of items it will vote on at an open meeting ahead of the meeting in order to give stakeholders time to give substantive comment.

• Provide all commissioners' offices with any changes to an item to be voted on at a meeting no later than 24 hours before an open meeting.

• Require the chairman post and sign all pre-adoption changes to an the official FCC commissioner e-mail chain.

• Inform other commissioners at least two weeks beforehand of any intended guest or witness for the meeting.

• Submit to all commissioners' offices a statement or testimony by said guest no later than 48 hours before a meeting.

• Review passed regulations at regular intervals.

• Publish any items adopted at an open meeting that same day.

 

Dialogue with Treasury, DOJ 

Also in his speech, O'Rielly offered suggestions for the FCC that he said weren't necessarily related to the task force.

He said that the FCC could benefit greatly by keeping an open dialogue with the Treasury and the Justice Department, which are involved in FCC enforcement actions. The Treasury collects fees settled by the FCC's Enforcement Bureau and the Justice Department gets involved when companies violate criminal laws.

“The commission has no idea whether a company is following its [FCC] enforcement agreement,” O'Rielly said. “The simple fix is to build a relationship with the Treasury and DOJ.”

“I don’t think it’s a heavy-lift to have relationships with the two entities involved in that [enforcement] process,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Ross in Washington at bross@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

Read O'Rielly's remarks here: http://op.bna.com/der.nsf/r?Open=sbay-9yuv6l.