Martin headed for an oral exam?


House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-MI) said late last year that he was concerned about the way business is conducted at the FCC under Chairman Kevin Martin (R), and tasked Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Bart Stupak (D-MI) with looking into the matter. It appears it may finally be coming to a head.

The Washington Post is reporting that the staff-level investigation is complete, and that Dingell may soon haul Martin over for a visit where he can be grilled by the committee membership. But so far, nothing is on the schedule.

Among the concerns are that studies providing evidence contrary to policy directions Martin would like to pursue are suppressed. Some of the other Commissioners have also complained about receiving proposals going on the agenda for a vote at the absolute last minute.

RBR/TVBR observation: Martin has seemed to be trying everything he can think of to shake the impression that he operates the FCC as a fiefdom, with all major decisions made in secret. But nothing seems to shake that image.

Martin seemed as surprised as everyone else when, at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, Barbara Boxer (D-CA) produced an allegedly suppressed document which seemed to provide evidence against relaxing media ownership rules. Martin immediately scoured the FCC for any study on the topic and made them available to the public on the FCC’s website.

He has released measures to be voted on early – an unprecedented concession to openness and transparency; he has frequently made himself available to the press; and he just recently increased FCC agenda sunshine notification from one to three weeks.

Is this entire hullabaloo over process, or is it really over policy disagreements? Let’s get real – Martin was selected by the Bush administration, and was confirmed by the Senate. He’s allowed to have policy opinions and work toward their realization.

From our vantage point, we would suggest that Martin runs a far more open and transparent FCC than Powell did; his current problems with Congress seem to be more spillover from the Powell era than from anything Martin has done.

If Congress is going to change FCC process, it should listen to the Commissioners – Republicans and Democrats alike — and allow them to meet face to face to hammer out policy; then see if the rest of the process needs an overhaul.