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FCC’s McDowell Shouts Out Chairman

WASHINGTON: Sending a letter to the guy down the hall might seem unusual in a normal working environment, but the Federal Communications Commission is anything but. FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell penned a six-pager to the new chairman, Julius Genachowski, about getting agency reforms underway. McDowell, who crossed off the type-written “Mr. Chairman” salutation in favor of a hand-written “Julius,” noted that his letter was in the spirit of transparency and public dialogue. The agency is perceived as sorely lacking both.

“As you and I have already discussed, these thoughts are intended as a starting point for a more public discussion,” McDowell wrote. “Many of these ideas have been discussed by many people for a long period of time, and if we don’t care who gets the credit we can accomplish a great deal.”

McDowell calls for a “thorough operational, financial and ethics audit” of the FCC and its related agencies, particularly the contracting process and fee collection. He mentions indications that the FCC has over-collected $20 million in fees over the last two years. McDowell, the senior Republican on the commission, suggested updating the FCC’s strategic plan, and possibly restructuring the agency. McDowell included clean-up of internal and external communications, and a suggestion hire fewer lawyers, and possibly more engineers.

“There is no reason why we cannot use engineers to help investigate complaints and petitions that involve technical and engineering questions,” he wrote.

Genachowski answered McDowell likewise, crossing out the formal salutation in favor of “Dear Commissioner ‘Rob.’” I’m on it, he said.

“One of my first acts as chairman was to announce the appointment of Mary Beth Richards as special counsel for FCC Reform,” he replied. “And beginning this week, the FCC will open an internal Web—to solicit reform proposals from every FCC employee.”

The Web site will eventually become open to the public, once again, in the name of transparency.
-- Deborah D. McAdams