FCC termed dysfunctional in E&C report


A House panel report charges the FCC of Chairman Kevin Martin with data manipulation, report suppression, secrecy and of fostering an employment “climate of fear and intimidation.” However, a spokesperson for Martin noted that the panel did not appear to find “…any violations of rules, laws or procedures following a year-long investigation.”

The report came from the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations under Bart Stupak (D-MI). He said, “Our investigation confirmed a number of troubling allegations raised by individuals in and outside the FCC. The Committee staff report details some of the most egregious abuses of power, suppression of information and manipulation of data under Chairman Martin’s leadership.  It is my hope that this report will serve as a roadmap for a fair, open and efficient FCC under new leadership in the next administration.”

Speaking on behalf of Martin, the FCC’s Robert Kenny said, ““We are reviewing the report. It appears that the Committee did not find or conclude that there were any violations of rules, laws or procedures following a year-long investigation. Chairman Martin has followed the same procedures that have been followed for the past 20 years by FCC Chairmen, both Democratic and Republican alike. We went to extraordinary lengths to cooperate with the investigation. In total, more than 600 Commission employees spent 11,620 hours complying with the Committee’s request for information. The Commission provided committee staff with more than 9,000 emails and approximately 75 boxes containing nearly 170,000 pages of documents, and after producing this information, the Committee did not find that there were any violations of rules, laws or procedures.”

Amplifying on this later, Kenny said that the year-long investigation essentially found that Martin was in favor of helping deaf Americans, as well as keeping prices down and options plentiful for cable subscribers. “The Chairman makes no apologies for his commitment to serving deaf and disabled Americans and for fighting to lower exorbitantly high cable rates that consumers are forced to pay,” said Kenney.

The report cited several areas of concern, including:

* There are instances in which the Chairman manipulated, withheld, or suppressed data, reports, and information.

* Important Commission matters have not been handled in an open and transparent manner, thereby raising suspicions both inside and outside the Commission that some parties and issues are not being treated fairly.

* The Commission has failed to carry out some important responsibilities [such as oversight of the Telecommunications Relay Service Fund; responding to information request by the Committee in a timely manner].

* Chairman Martin’s heavy-handed, opaque, and non-collegial management style has created distrust, suspicion, and turmoil among the five current Commissioners.

* Commission staff have not been efficiently managed.

It continued into more specific areas:

The report charges that Martin took a cable a la carte report initiated by Michael Powell in response to requests from both Commerce Committees and had it rewritten with to support a different conclusion. It also says a full Commission vote to revise a video competition report discussing the 70/70 rule, overriding a draft version favored by Martin, has been suppressed and has yet to be released. The Committee says this indicates data manipulation and failure to report to the Committee in a timely manner.

The Committee charges that Martin has retaliated against FCC staffers who disagreed with him, often resulting in demotions, often “without explanation or notice.” The say the practice was so common it was known as being “Martinized” or “blue-boxed.” The Committee says it lead to a “climate of fear and intimidation at the FCC.” It also says Martin micromanages the agency down to trivial details.

There is an unproven allegation that an unidentified White House staffer complained to the FCC that the White House was not getting certain local television stations from its DirecTV subscription, and until that matter was resolved, official business between DirecTV and Liberty Media was said to be held up. The Committee wrote, “We deem these sources credible, but at this point, we have no records to substantiate this allegation.”

The Committee says Martin-appointed FCC Inspector General Dr. Kent Nilsson has close personal relationships with Martin and many of his staffers, inhibiting his ability to provide proper oversight.

RBR/TVBR observation: Stupak’s statement tells you all the need to know about the immediate repercussions of the report – since Martin’s remaining tenure as Chairman will be extremely limited, there will be no immediate repercussions. That said, in some ways, Martin has blazed new trails of openness since this investigation began. In particular, he has been gathering with reporters three weeks in advance of each FCC open meeting to go over its agenda, discussing both what’s on and what isn’t, and why.

While there may be legitimate management issues here, we think much of the problem is that a Republican political appointee is trying to forward a Republican agenda under the watchful eye of a Democratic congressional committee.