House To Take Up Process Reform Act

The office of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Calif.) has scheduled floor consideration Monday of the Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act of 2015, which among other things sets timelines for FCC actions, requires publications of some documents online and allows more than two commissioners to get together outside of public meetings so long as certain criteria are met, including that other reforms are completed first.

The bill gives the FCC a year to implement the changes.

The bill will be considered under suspension of the rules, which limits debate to 40 minutes and does not allow any amendments, but require a two-thirds majority for passage.

The bill, introduced by Communications Subcommittee Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and subcommittee member Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), will be slightly different from the original that was reported favorably out of the Energy & Commerce Committee.

The bill requires the FCC to set minimum comment periods for rulemakings, prevents it from placing large amounts of information in the record on the last day of a comment period, requires publication of the text of proposed rules.

According to a House staffer, as amended:

"The bill also requires the FCC to conduct an inquiry into reform of more complex issues, such as Commission review and voting procedures and whether it is feasible to publish final text of items to be adopted before the Commission votes on them.

"Both the rulemaking and the inquiry require the Commission to set expected timelines for proceedings and to report to Congress annually on whether the Commission met the timelines. This gives the public a sense for what to expect from the FCC while retaining the FCC’s flexibility to set realistic goals.

"The bill also provides mandatory transparency into the Commission’s business by requiring publication of certain documents on the FCC website and mandating a searchable online database for consumer complaints.

"The bill makes changes to the Government in the Sunshine Act to allow more than two commissioners to meet privately when certain safeguards for transparency are met. This change would not take effect until the Commission completes the other requirements for process reform.

"This bill also includes a temporary waiver of the Antideficiency Act until the end of 2020 for the FCC’s Universal Service Fund. The fund has been subject to sequential waivers since its creation, which have routinely been granted. This waiver makes the process more efficient.

"The bill incorporates three Democratic amendments that require a report on actions the Commission can take to improve the participation of small businesses in FCC proceedings, publication on the FCC’s website of the status of a quarterly progress report, and publication of any internal policies established or changed by the Chairman."

The bill passed out of a divided E&C in June (, but it was unclear at press time if the alterations in the bill made it more palatable to the Democrats.

John Eggerton

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.