Simington: FCC Commissioners Need Role in Reviewing Delegated Authority

FCC member Nathan Simington
FCC member Nathan Simington (Image credit: via screenshot)

Federal Communications Commission member Nathan Simington is telling Congress that he and his fellow commissioners need to serve as a check on the power of the chair.

According to testimony for the House Energy & Commerce Committee FCC oversight hearing Wednesday (June 21), Simington, a Republican, said that if the agency does not adopt rules allowing for full commission oversight of decisions made by staffers under authority delegated by the chair, Congress should step in to mandate it.

“The FCC chair has broad discretion in delegating matters to career officials and political appointees, which restricts those matters from the review, comment and voting of the full commission,” he said in his testimony.

That discretion “weakens” congressional oversight of the commission, Simington said, by “removing accountability from Senate-confirmed officials.”

Simington cited “recent litigation about the scope of administrative discretion” as a reason for the FCC to take action on the issue. But if the FCC does not, he said, “I would encourage legislation that secures Congressional oversight and accountability.”

The recent litigation he referenced had to do with the FCC’s delegation of authority over broadband subsidies to the Universal Service Administrative Co. (USAC).

In the most recent decision, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a unanimous verdict handed down May 4, concluded the FCC is on sound constitutional footing when it comes to delegating oversight of the billions of dollars in government advanced telecommunications subsidy money it hands out annually with a big assist from the USAC.

Another prominent and controversial delegated authority issue considered in the courts was the FCC Media Bureau’s decision to designate Standard General’s proposed acquisition of Tegna for hearing before an administrative law judge, a decision that effectively killed the deal.

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.