Cliff Stearns attacks secretive FCC


The Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight Subcommittee is on the FCC’s case for lack of transparency. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) is looking to overhaul the commission in hopes of bringing daylight to its proceedings.

According to Hillicon Valley, Stearns called the FCC’s process “byzantine” and said it is in need of an overhaul. For one thing, he wants the FCC to put bodies of regulation out for comment after they are written so people with comments know precisely what they are talking about.

He also complained about a backlog when it comes to taking action of licensing requests.

Stearns does support Anna Eshoo’s reintroduction of legislation that would allow two commissioners to meet face to face, a simple act currently prohibited.

FCC’s Edward Lazarus told Hillicon that calls for reform sometimes are simply code for general disagreement over policy matters. Lazarus noted that the FCC has been continually moving in the direction of making its processes more open and accessible to the public.

RBR-TVBR observation: The FCC simply cannot win this one. No matter what it does, it gets nailed for lacking transparency. Republicans make that charge when Democrats run the FCC, and Democrats do the same when Republicans are in control – just ask Kevin Martin.

Martin almost got playful about it. He held workshops. He held public forums at locations throughout America. He released documents. He provided sunshine notices at an unprecedented rate, including a new habit of announcing Open Meeting agenda items three weeks ahead of time, a practice the current chairman has maintained. Martin even put drafts of regulation out for comment ahead of taking a vote. And he was still accused of practically being a secret agent.

Take the issue of when the FCC seeks comment on a topic. If it waits until it has a body of regulation together, as Stearns is now suggesting, that means nobody will have had a chance to weigh in on the topic and influence how the regulation is written in the first place.

If you ask us, Stearns’ comments are without merit. The FCC should indeed solicit comment before it writes down anything. At some point, it has to sit down and actually do the writing, and it cannot very well set up a desk on the Mall in the middle of the Smithsonian and allow passing tourists to watch and comment.

Democrats frequently could not stand the things that Michael Powell and Kevin Martin were doing, but the American people gave George W. Bush the right to name Michael Powell and Kevin Martin to the FCC chair. Republicans frequently cannot stand what Julius Genachowski is up, to, but the American people gave Barack Obama the right to name him to the chair. And it was Congress that gave the FCC the power as an expert agency to administrate the public airwaves and wireline right-of-ways.

Would Stearns like to have us peering over his shoulder as he talks with staff, lobbyists and other legislators about prospective legislation, and then let us watch him write it up? We think not – we doubt he could function that way. Nor do we want him standing behind us while we go through the process of writing this piece. The same goes for the FCC or any business, private or public.