Sparring over the release of FCC documents pertaining to the Commission’s LightSquared proceeding led Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to put a prolonged hold on two FCC commissioner nominees. On the Senate floor, he said he hopes the FCC has learned a lesson.
He said that the then-nominees, now-commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Ajit Pai are both highly qualified and that it was unfortunate that the FCC forced him to put the hold on by its refusal to cooperate with him.
The lesson he wants the FCC to take to heart is the need to conduct the nation’s business in a transparent manner.
Here are Grassley’s full remarks:
Mr. President, I am pleased to see that Jessica Rosenworcel and Ajit Pai have been confirmed to the Federal Communications Commission.
They are both highly qualified, and it is unfortunate that the FCC’s stubborn refusal to respond to my simple request for information forced me to place a hold on their nominations for the past four months.
The FCC needs to learn a simple lesson from this episode.
The public’s business ought to be public.
Eventually, the truth will be known, so you might as well get it out there when the questions first come up.
I initially placed my hold on the FCC Commissioner nominees because the FCC had stonewalled a document request I submitted on April 27, 2011, regarding their actions related to a company called LightSquared and the hedge fund – Harbinger Capital – that owns LightSquared.
Before I wrote my letter on LightSquared, many concerns had already been raised regarding the company’s plans for a terrestrial network and its potential to interfere with the global positioning system or GPS. In my first letter, I raised those concerns as well.
Unfortunately, the FCC doesn’t appear to have taken those concerns seriously, but months later independent testing verified the danger LightSquared posed to industries from commercial aviation to our armed forces.
It seems strange that a project that was so obviously flawed was allowed to go so far, but LightSquared had help. In total, LightSquared has paid 53 different lobbyists – some registered, some unregistered. They have paid one former Governor, three former Senators, nine former Members of Congress, including a former Speaker and a former Minority Leader, and a former White House Counsel to advocate for them.
These lobbyists provided entry into the FCC and the White House, but they couldn’t change the fact that LightSquared’s network simply couldn’t co-exist with GPS.
LightSquared has now declared bankruptcy, and it appears that its plans to build a terrestrial network are over, but many questions still remain.
Why did the FCC give LightSquared this unusual waiver in the first place? Why did LightSquared’s lawyers mention campaign contributions when they sought meetings at the White House? Why did a four-star general claim he had been pressured by the Obama Administration not to criticize LightSquared?
When I first asked the FCC for documents, I was told that they would take about two years to respond to my request through the Freedom of Information Act.
Then, they told me that they do not voluntarily turn over documents to the 99.6 percent of the Members of Congress and Senators who do not chair a committee with direct jurisdiction over the FCC.
After a lot of back and forth with the FCC, they told me the reason they don’t respond to 99.6 percent of Congress is because of one line in a Congressional Research Service report. The line reads, “Oversight is most effective if it’s conducted by Congressional committees of jurisdiction.” The FCC somehow took this quote and conveniently came up with the idea that they didn’t have to give me documents.
This makes no sense whatsoever.
Of course, I didn’t give up.
The FCC’s response to me is just another variation on what the Justice Department told me when I started asking questions about Operation Fast and Furious.
Fortunately, we have members of the House of Representatives that aren’t afraid to ask this Administration tough questions.
In Fast and Furious it was Chairman Issa who held the Justice Department’s feet to the fire to make sure they responded fully and completely.
With LightSquared it was the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Chairmen Walden, Upton, and Stearns and their staff have done an excellent job in making sure the FCC is open and transparent and provides documents to Congress.
I would also like to thank Commerce Committee Chairman Rockefeller for pressing the FCC personally to release documents.
With their help, we’re making sure that the FCC is open with the American people about the way they operate.
In over thirty years of conducting oversight I can say that when it comes to providing documents to Congress, the FCC is one of the worst federal agencies I have ever seen.
Even after receiving a document request from the Energy and Commerce Committee, the FCC still tried to play the tired old games that agencies play when they aren’t acting in good faith.
When they finally turned over their first batch of documents, those documents were already publicly available on the internet through the Freedom of Information Act.
In their second production, of the first 1,968 pages they produced – 1,965 pages were old newspaper clippings. Again, the FCC was playing games.
That’s just not acceptable.
Fortunately, we have continued to press the FCC and we now have approximately 8,000 non-public internal documents.
Still, we have not received all responsive documents from the FCC yet.
We just received another 4,000 pages of documents and I have been told that approximately 7,000 more documents are on their way to Congress, so we now at least have a pathway forward.
That is why I lifted my holds.
I trust that the House Committee will ensure that the FCC provides those 7,000 or so additional documents.
I have always said that if you’re hiding something, it’s best to get it out in the open, because the longer you stonewall, the worse you’re going to look when the facts come out.
The FCC has attempted to stonewall my request for documents for almost a year and they have failed.
Thanks to the help provided by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, we are finally able to review internal documents from the FCC.
As I said when I initially filed my intent to object, I strongly believe that it is critical for Congress to have access to documents in order to conduct vigorous and independent oversight.
Whether it takes one day, one week, one month, or even one year – as it did in this case, I will continue to pursue transparency across the federal government.
That is essential so that Congress can practice its constitutional role of oversight over the federal government.
Even now, as we review these documents and begin conducting interviews with key FCC staff, the investigation continues.
Step one was getting access to the FCC’s e-mails.
We took this step so that we could make sure we had the facts before we jumped to conclusions.
Now it’s time for step two: asking some hard questions of the key FCC personnel who approved the LightSquared waiver.
This process may continue to take more time, but however long the process takes, I will continue to press for transparency at the FCC.
This agency must operate in an open and transparent manner, and we must have answers regarding the LightSquared waiver.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
RBR-TVBR observation: We understand Grassley’s frustration with the FCC, but as we have pointed out, the LightSquared situation and the commissioner nominations had nothing to do with one another. Because of this, we highly doubt that the FCC has “learned” anything.