05.19.2011 04:00 PM
Public Watchdogs Ask FCC To Make Recusal Process Public
WASHINGTON: Public Knowledge, a public-interest lobby, is asking the Federal Communications Commission to require commissioners and staff negotiating for new employment to make those intentions public. The request was prompted by the news that Republican Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker would leave her post a month early to become a lobbyist for NBCUniversal. Baker voted in favor of Comcast’s takeover of NBCUniversal and spoke out against imposing conditions.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, PK President Gigi B. Sohn noted that PK’s FCC Reform report last year noted the lack of transparency in post-FCC employment. The letter also noted that officials recusing themselves from dockets or issues because of employment negotiations had in the past been required to file a publicly available letter with the recusal information. That requirement has lapsed, and Public Knowledge said Genachowski should “immediately reinstitute this requirement.”

“As you are no doubt aware, there has been a great deal of public discussion surrounding the timing of the departure of Commissioner Meredith Baker,” Sohn wrote. “Although all available evidence suggests that she and her staff are adhering to current recusal procedures, those procedures have at least one easily corrected deficiency. No one in the public, and probably few at the commission, knew that she had talked with Comcast about possible future employment until she announced her departure.”

There once was a public-disclosure requirement, but it has apparently lapsed.

“We suggest that you immediately reinstitute this requirement, which would cover all commissioners and staff at the earliest possible stage of serious employment negotiations,” Sohn said. “As we. . . noted in the report, ‘When agency staff can move easily in and out of careers with companies the agency regulates and the law firms that represent them, the problem of agency capture is exacerbated.’”

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