Senators Seek Answers On FCC Watchdog Independence


WASHINGTON, DC — The “apparent erosion” of Federal Communications Commission Inspector General David Hunt‘s independence “by FCC action” has come into question by the top two Republican leaders of the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee.

In a letter sent Monday (Oct. 17) to Hunt, Committee Chairman Sen. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) request information on the internal processes and procedures that govern the relationship between the office of the Chairman and the Inspector General’s office.

“There is growing concern that because the FCC Inspector General is appointed by, reports to, and is under the general supervision of the Chairman of the Commission that the I.G. is not free to provide the honest and independent criticism that is critical to the performance of the I.G.’s oversight,” the Senators state.

Some “particularly concerning examples” include the sharing of drafts of audits and reports with the Chairman’s office before being finalized, involvement in hiring decisions of the Inspector General’s office, and the absence of recent FCC Inspector General audit reports from the Commission’s website.

It is now up to Hunt to kindly respond by Oct. 31 to the following questions:

  • What mechanisms are in place to ensure that the Office of Inspector General is independent from the Office of the Chairman?
  • How is the Inspector General’s annual fiscal budget derived and what role, if any, do the FCC’s Office of Managing Director and the Office of the Chairman play in that process?
  • What is the role of the FCC’s Office of Human Resources in the personnel decisions of the Inspector General’s Office?
  • What is the role of the Chairman’s Office in the drafting and release ofreports and audits developed by the Inspector General’s Office?
  • What is the role of the FCC’s Bureaus and Offices in the drafting and release of reports and audits developed by the Inspector General’s Office?
  • Does the Inspector General have the ability and necessary access to post information on the FCC’s website? What procedures do you follow to make such postings?

Furthermore, the senators ask Hunt to provide all communications from January 1, 2012 to the present between the FCC and the Inspector General’s office.

Specifically, the senators wish to see communication tied to a compromise agreement among a majority of commissioners to cap the Lifeline program in the hours leading up to the FCC’s public vote. A subsequent investigation revealed that FCC Chairman Wheeler authorized the leak of the agreement to the press, triggering an outcry from groups opposed to a cap on the program. Ultimately, the sole Democratic Commissioner supporting the compromise withdrew from the agreement in favor of adopting the chairman’s proposal after a long-delayed vote.

“While the I.G. identifies the chairman’s office as the source of the leak and acknowledges the ‘unusual’ circumstances surrounding the deliberations, the I.G. found ‘no evidence’ that the information the chairman deliberately provided to the press was done so in an attempt to unduly influence the outcome of the vote,” the senators point out.

That’s not acceptable, in their view, thus the request to receive information “necessary to understand the practical and working relationship” between Hunt and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

The letter to Hunt is the latest salvo from both Walden and Upton against the Wheeler-led commission. The two Republicans have been vocal in their opposition to Wheeler’s leadership style, and a growing partisanship on a series of votes that have seen passage on a 3-2 party line favoring Democrat-supported rules.

Wheeler is a Democrat appointed by President Obama and unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate in fall 2013.

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