FCC Chairman Ajit Pai instituted several process reform measures this week, having to do with enforcement, issue explanations and edits. The Enforcement Bureau often resolves a conflict with a licensee with a Consent Decree; that’s an agreement in which both sides agree to end litigation and come to a compromise. Often the licensee doesn’t admit guilt, but makes a “voluntary donation” to the U.S. Treasury.
The problem with that system under the previous administration was not all the Commissioners saw the document before it was released, according to Pai. The bureau chief signed the order at the direction of the Chairman’s office.
“That process ends now,” Pai says. Any Consent Decree settling a Notice of Apparent Liability or Forfeiture Order issued by the Commission must now be approved by a full Commission vote, he says, starting immediately.
The chairman is also making two suggestions from his fellow commissioners a reality. After the FCC votes on items at its open monthly meeting, the agency issues the text of the item afterwards. Commissioner Mignon Clyburn proposed the agency also release a short summary too, to make it easier for consumers to understand what the FCC did. Pai says the agency will begin doing this in time for the March 23 meeting.
Next, Commissioner Michael O’Rielly suggested any substantive changes to an item from the time it’s circulated and the meeting at which it is voted on, should be proposed by a Commissioner, rather than staff. He believes this would promote accountability and help Commissioners better understand where edits come from. This reform is being implemented immediately, according to Pai.
Finally, O’Rielly also proposed, and Pai agrees with, limiting how much of an item can be changed after the Commissioners vote on it. O’Rielly said the process was being abused, so beginning with the February 23 meeting, the ability by bureaus and offices to make changes after the vote will be limited to “technical and conforming edits,” according to the chairman. Any substantive changes made to items following a meeting must be proposed by a Commissioner.
February 10, 2017