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GAO Report Recommends FCC Streamline Decision Making Process

just-released study
from the Government Accounting Office has recommended
that the FCC take a number of steps to streamline its decision making process, increase
oversight of so-called ex parte comments and meeting from outside parties, and
make it clear what access commissioners have to information from the FCC's

The study was requested by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.),
following criticisms that the FCC, particularly under former chairman Kevin
Martin, of the problems some commissioners had of getting access to that

But the GAO is preaching to the choir under new Chairman
Julius Genachowski, whose mantra has been openness and transparency, though
there were some criticisms from Republicans about how the network neutrality
proposal came down.

He has even launched internal and external
"reboot" Web sites to solicit comments on ways to reform the process
and make it more collaborative and open.

Among the recommendations in the GAO report were to require
the FCC to actually release the text of a proposed new rule or change before it
is publicly voted on. The FCC will summarize the changes and staffers will talk
about them at a post-meeting press conference, but in the past it has sometimes
been months between a vote and the release of the actual order language.

GAO also recommends that each new FCC chairman develop and
publicize at the outset how and to what extent commissioners can access
information from bureaus during the decision-making process, as well as make
that information available to the relevant government oversight committees.

Responding to the report, Markey said in a statement: "This
report underscores the organizational challenges and opportunities facing the
FCC.  The rapid evolution of the
telecommunications marketplace requires an agile agency, and reforms initiated
by Chairman Genachowski have begun moving the FCC in a positive direction,
particularly in the areas of transparency, public participation, and human
capital management.  I look forward to continued oversight of the FCC as
it responds to the important findings in this report."

In the FCC's official comment on the findings, which was
included in the report, it "generally agreed" with the GAO, and
pointed out it was already taking steps along those lines including an ongoing
internal review of its processes and making the texts of proposed rules
available in Notices of Proposed Rulemakings.

The commission also said it may issue a rulemaking on
changes to the ex parte process, which has been criticized for incomplete
reporting of issues addressed in meetings with industry lobbyists.

But the FCC did not commit to publicizing future policies on
commissioner access to information during decision making. "We believe
these would be important steps in providing the transparency of FCC's decision making
process," said a GAO spokesperson.

A spokesman for FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said he had
no comment on the recommendations beyond the FCC's official response in the

"I am pleased Chairman Genachowski has already launched
a wholesale review of FCC process and that we are already seeing some results
from that review," said Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), chairman of the House
Communications Subcommittee, to whom the report was also addressed in addition
to Rep. Markey. "I look forward to further reforms at the FCC and urge the
Chairman to continue to take steps to ensure that the FCC serves the public
interest by being open, transparent and accountable."

Andrew Shcwartzman, president of Media Access Project, wanted to make clear that GAO's report was a shot across the bow at the former, not current FCC stewardship. "This is a very useful study, but it is very important to recognize it is a blueprint for assisting the current FCC in its ongoing reform initiative rather than a criticism of current managment. The GAO conducted its research between August 2009 and October 2009. Chairman Genachowski did not take office until late June 2009. Thus, while the study acknowledges that the Chairman has undertaken an examination of the FCC's processes, it does not reflect any changes which might result from this ongoing initiative."