—You’d think a hearing on FCC reform could be dull, but Thursday’s was anything but boring.
House Telecom and Communications Subcommittee Chair Oregon
Republican Rep. Greg Walden is trying again to get his package of bills
to streamline FCC procedures through Congress. The package passed the
House but died in the Senate previously. The new legislation is
currently in draft form.
The legislation would require the FCC to conduct cost-benefit
analyses before adopting new rules, meet binding deadlines and provide
the public an adequate opportunity to review proposals. It would also
cut down on the number of reports the agency needs to send to Congress.
Ranking Subcommittee Democrat Anna Eshoo of California questioned the
need for the hearing, saying the subcommittee has debated the
legislation for three years and it’s “going nowhere.” Eshoo called the proposals “a backdoor way of gutting the FCC’s authority.”
Fellow Californian Henry Waxman, also ranking Democrat on the full
House Commerce Committee, agreed, saying adoption of 12 additional steps
before taking a vote would “slow the agency to a crawl.”
Walden pushed on, saying the proposals are “designed to minimize the
potential for procedural failings, curb abuse and improve agency
National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners General
Counsel James Ramsay agreed, saying the additional steps are designed to
address “abuse of process,” which can undermine rational
decision-making. The proposals, he said, try to give other commissioners
time to “have adequate decision-making” before they vote.
Duke Law professor Stuart Benjamin said the proposal undermines the
Administrative Procedures Act that applies to all federal agencies; the
upshot is passage could “ossify” the FCC process.
One topic that several witnesses supported is the concept of allowing
more than two commissioners to meet to discuss an issue before a vote
is taken. The so-called Sunshine Act prevents that now.
Former FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell said, “FCC process reform is
not necessarily the most glamorous topic” but it is necessary. McDowell
also said that even though he’s now a visiting fellow at the Hudson
Institute, his views are his own.
McDowell urged lawmakers to move ahead with a rewrite of the Telecom
Act, something he’s long supported. As for the bills discussed in the
hearing, he favors making the FCC justify new rules with a cost-benefits
analysis and including a sunset date for any new rules the commission
promulgates to give the agency an ongoing way to weed out those that are
no longer necessary.
McDowell supports the portion of the legislation that would allow
more than two commissioners to meet to discuss pending issues
Though not a witness, Commissioner Ajit Pai, too, supports the reform
efforts, noting in a statement that “Process often dictates outcomes.”
NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith is pleased the subcommittee is taking a
fresh look at FCC reform, stating: “The agency has a critically
important mission, and it is imperative that it execute that mission
expeditiously, fairly and in a data-driven manner.”