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House Republicans Seek GAO Study of FCC Enforcement Bureau

House Energy & Commerce Committee Republican leadership have asked the Government Accountability Office to review the management of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau.

The committee has been looking at the bureau as part of broader reviews of FCC process, but want GAO to close the loop on its own Enforcement Bureau investigation seven years ago.

The request to GAO was also prompted in part by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s decision, citing budget constraints as well efficiency, to close more than half of the FCC's field offices.

Broadcasters have expressed their concerns about closing those offices, which among other things monitor for interference, at the same time the FCC is putting wireless companies in spectrum adjacent to broadcasters, and in some cases asking broadcasters to share the band.

"In the absence of additional performance metrics as recommended by GAO [seven years ago], it will be difficult to determine whether the benefits claimed and assurances made by the FCC leadership with regard to the restructuring will indeed be realized."

Those congressional leaders have collected info from the FCC on the bureau as part of the committee's investigations, but say that information has only validated their concerns with management and process, they said.

Here are the questions they want GAO to answer:

1. "Has the FCC implemented performance measures and performance goals consistent with GAO’s 2008 recommendations? If not, how does the FCC measure the effectiveness of the enforcement program?

2. "In the intervening seven years, would GAO recommend additional or revised recommendations to the FCC in effectively tracking the effectiveness of the FCC enforcement program?

3. "Is the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau meeting its mission of protecting the consumer, ensuring public safety, and encouraging competition? What changes should be made to improve performance to ensure that consumers are being protected and FCC leadership is accountable?

4. "The FCC has invested millions of dollars in IT improvements in the Enforcement Bureau and the Consumer & Government Affairs Bureau since 2007. How much has the FCC spent on these improvements? Have these improvements lead to an improved enforcement program at the FCC to the benefit of consumers and other stakeholders?"

Signing on to the letter were E&C chair Fred Upton (R-Mich.); Communications Subcommittee chair Greg Walden (R-Ore.), and Communications Subcommittee vice chair Bob Latta.

“We look forward to working with the GAO review of the activities of the FCC Enforcement Bureau," said an FCC spokesperson, who confirmed the FCC had received the letter and was stufying it. " We take the enforcement of the applicable statutes and rules seriously.”

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.