A goal we should all share: A 21st century FCC
The technology and communications sector is the most innovative in our country—it deserves the most innovative and open government agency.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski has taken some steps to open his agency’s processes to the public. However, only Congress can make permanent these reforms and others to ensure that the FCC is the kind of accountable federal agency that taxpayers deserve.
To that end, the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology today (Wednesday 16th Nov) will examine a bill we recently introduced, the FCC Process Reform Act, that would put good government reforms into law for the current Commission—and for all those to come in the future.
As of this summer, 1,351,898 consumer complaints, 5,328 petitions from industry stakeholders, and 4,034 license applications and renewals had been pending at the FCC for more than two years.
That is over one million consumers whose complaints have not been heard, more than five thousand industry questions that have not been answered, and more than four thousand licensees who may not invest in their businesses because they’re still waiting for the FCC to tell them they can keep operating.
The FCC can do better—and it does when it is held accountable. The FCC has shot clocks for some proceedings, but not others. When it has a shot clock, the FCC beats it more than 71 percent of the time. Any fifth grader can tell you why: when you have a deadline, you meet it.
And today, the FCC must report to Congress each year about how quickly it processes junk fax complaints, but not other complaints. The reporting works: even though the agency had almost 3,400 junk fax complaints pending this summer, only 20 were more than two years old.
The public should know how long it will take the FCC to act when they file a petition, and Congress should know whether the FCC is meetings its own deadlines.
Taking a page from the President’s Executive Order, the bill would require cost-benefit analyses for economically significant rules, where increased scrutiny is most warranted. And drawing on recommendations from the Government Accountability Office, the bill would only require performance measures for those programs where the FCC collects and spends $100 million or more of federal funds.
The legislation is the result of an open, transparent, and accountable process. We have held two hearings on FCC process reform and substantially refined our legislation as a result of the testimony we received. We have listened to stakeholders and reached across the aisle to understand the views of all involved.
This isn’t our first time tackling transparency and process issues in the federal government. Earlier this year, the House Transition Team implemented reforms to the House rules, including the “read the bill” requirement that ensures the press, public, and members of Congress have at least three days to study legislation before it receives a vote on the House floor.
What we understood then—and still do today—is that improving how our government agencies operate shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Both parties’ histories are marred by abuses of good government. That applies to Congress as it does to the FCC.
As policymakers, we owe it to the taxpayers to learn from these transgressions and protect against them moving forward.
We believe Chairman Genachowski shares that spirit. During his tenure, the FCC has reduced the number of backlogged broadcasting applications by 30 percent and the number of satellite applications by 89 percent; the FCC has used a streamlined process to approve more than 18,000 transactions; and the FCC has closed almost 1,000 dormant proceedings.
But acts of good government like these should not vary from administration to administration.
Much work remains before the FCC can meet fully the expectations of the American people. Taxpayers and the telecommunications sector deserve what only Congress can give them—reforms that will last from one chairman to the next, regardless of which party controls the legislature or the FCC.
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) is chairman of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) is a member of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee and cosponsor of the FCC Process Reform Act of 2011.