GAO: FCC May Not Be Meeting Enforcement Obligations

A report from the Government Accountability Office says the FCC lacks measurable enforcement tools and may have difficulty assuring Congress and others that it is meeting its enforcement mission.

“Limitations in FCC’s current approach for collecting and analyzing enforcement data constitute the principal challenge FCC faces in providing complete and accurate information on its enforcement program,” the GAO report summary said. “These limitations make it difficult to analyze trends; determine program effectiveness; allocate Commission resources; or accurately track and monitor key aspects of all complaints received, investigations conducted, and enforcement actions taken.”

The GAO said the number of complaints received by the FCC totaled about 454,000 from 2003 to 2006, growing from almost 86,000 in 2003 to a high of about 132,000 in 2005.

The largest number of complaints alleged violations of the do-not-call list and telemarketing during prohibited hours.

According to the report, FCC Enforcement Bureau processed about 95 percent of the complaints it received, opened about 46,000 investigations and closed about 39,000; almost 9 percent of these investigations were closed with an enforcement action, and about 83 percent were closed with no enforcement action.

“GAO was unable to determine why these investigations were closed with no enforcement action because FCC does not systematically collect these data,” GAO said.

The FCC issued a 109-page response, including numerous corrections of GAO data. It noted that during the tenure of Chairman Kevin J. Martin, the commission has assessed more than $65.7 million in fines, forfeitures and consent decree payments, including more than $43 million in 2007, a record amount.

The FCC also said it has already implemented measures that address GAO recommendations.

Enforcement areas at issue include antenna lighting and structure requirements, junk faxes, domestic interference, indecency, audits of certification-based facilities, Emergency Alert System requirements, and cable TV leakage.

“Unfortunately, the GAO report contains several errors that detract from its utility,” the FCC response said. “We raised these problems with GAO during the course of its examination, but the flaws remain in the draft report.”