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Pai: No More Consent Decrees Without a Vote

WASHINGTON—Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is on a process-reform roll. The chairman declared that henceforth the commissioner’s will vote on consent decrees, which are now at the discretion of the chief of the Enforcement Bureau and the chairman’s office. Consent decrees are generally entered into by parties that have been fined by the commission.

“One of the ways in which the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau resolves an investigation is by entering into a consent decree, in which the party being investigated agrees to comply with certain terms in exchange for the government closing its inquiry,” Pai said in an emailed statement.“But over the past few years, in cases in which the full commission has previously voted to propose and/or impose a forfeiture, such consent decrees have generally not been presented to the commissioners for a vote. Instead, they have simply been signed by the chief of the Enforcement Bureau at the direction of the chairman’s office. Indeed, many times, commissioners were barely given any notice of such consent decrees before they were publicly released by the Bureau.

“That abuse of process ends now. If commissioners vote to propose and/or impose a forfeiture, the Enforcement Bureau should not settle that matter without their approval. Therefore, I have instructed the Enforcement Bureau that starting today, any consent decree settling a Notice of Apparent Liability or Forfeiture Order issued by the full Commission must now be approved by a vote of the full Commission. This will help promote Commissioners’ involvement in and accountability for important enforcement decisions.

“We are putting this reform into practice immediately. This afternoon, the Enforcement Bureau circulated a consent decree for the commission’s consideration that would conclude an important investigation previously approved by the full commission. I look forward to working closely with my colleagues on that matter and other consumer protection efforts in the months to come.”

No further information was provided about the enforcement matter that triggered Pai’s decision.