Government report attacks FCC’s tactics

The U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a 53-page report last week that says the FCC doesn’t properly collect and analyze data — making it impossible to analyze the effectiveness of its enforcement.

The GAO report found that the FCC does not take enforcement action on about 83 percent of its investigations arising from complaints. Because of poor data collection, the GAO can’t determine the reason for the failure.

About 454,000 complaints were received at the FCC from 2003 through 2006, the report said. During that time, the number of annual complaints grew from 85,000 to 132,000. The FCC processed about 95 percent of its complaints and opened 46,000 investigations, but only 9 percent of the investigations led to enforcement action, the GAO said.

The report said that the FCC measures its enforcement impact by reviewing the amount of time it takes to close an investigation and other benchmarks, but it lacks management tools like measurable goals, a well-defined enforcement strategy and evaluations related to enforcement goals.

Kris Anne Montieth, the FCC enforcement bureau chief, said the commission is almost finished planning and budgeting for database modifications that will improve the ability to monitor consumer complaints and improve case management. The FCC has created performance goals and incorporated tools to evaluate how well the goals are met, she said.

Montieth claimed that the GAO report and its criticism rely on out-of-date information, giving a misleading picture of current practices.

Rep. John Dingell, D-MI, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, said the report demonstrates why the FCC cannot be relied on to enforce complaints. As a result, he intensified the committee’s probe of the FCC, now getting Republicans to sign onto the investigation.

In a letter to FCC chairman Kevin Martin last week, the bipartisan group of House members said the committee is investigating allegations related to “management practices that may adversely affect the commission’s ability to discharge effectively its statutory duties and to guard against waste, fraud and abuse.”

The move intensifies the problems posed by the probe for Martin. A willingness of Republicans to sign on to the critical letter suggests bipartisan unhappiness with his tenure.

The House members asked for records and notes from as far back as 2004. Most concerned FCC delays in moving forward with certain items; some concerned whether the FCC properly trained staff and had procedures assuring FCC staff complied with federal administrative procedures. It also asked about FCC staff reassignments.