This September, the House Energy and Commerce Committee concluded its investigation into the FCC’s alleged abuses of its “regulatory procedures and practices,” telling the public that it would return with a final report. Yesterday, the Committee returned with a vengeance. Democratic lawmakers released a scathing 110-age report entitled Deception and Distrust:The Federal Communications Commission Under Chairman Kevin J. Martin. The report takes the agency to task for its so-called dysfunctional nature and secretive procedures. According to the report, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin manipulated and withheld data and reports to advance his own policy positions. The report asserts that Martin pressed staff to rewrite an agency report that did not support his push for rules allowing cable subscribers to pick and choose channels instead of buying bundled program packages. And it characterized Martin for leading the agency with a closed culture, a “heavy-handed opaque and non-collegial management style that created distrust, suspicion, and turmoil among the five current commissioners.” Aside from a suggestion that a FCC Bureau Chief violated travel rules by charging per diem work fees for days he was not working, the report found no legal or procedural violations by Martin or other agency officials. Although the investigation began as a bi-partisan effort, it ended with only the democratic representatives’ approval of the report.
Because the Committee acknowledged that the FCC Chairman did not violate the law or regulatory procedures, the report’s strident tone casts doubt on its credibility. Many will no doubt dismiss the report as a partisan hatchet job, a parting shot at a Republican appointee. But this should not divert the public from the report’s important message: the need for more transparency in agency policymaking and procedure. Government opacity is not a partisan problem, at least not at the FCC. As Gene Kimmelman of the Consumers Union explains, the FCC has needed to reform its “closed door” secrecy for over 25 years. Hopefully, the Obama Administration and its campaign call for open government will change this course.