One of the hallmarks of any successful organization is open, effective internal communication. The FCC is no different, and the sharing of such information is critical in the decision-making process, whether it be simple facts and data points or more complicated analysis and expert opinion. So in my past interactions with the wonderful professional staff during the prior Commission, it was disappointing to find that reticence sometimes seemed to be the order of the day, rather than a free-flowing exchange. I have always strived to maintain open lines of communication throughout the agency, through regular meetings with the leadership of Bureaus and Offices, but in too many conversations, some of the most knowledgeable people in the building seemed to be under direction not to share certain information or answer certain questions. Sometimes I would get a wry smile, other times it was a blank stare, and occasionally there was a more honest response that the information wouldn’t be forthcoming. Frustrating indeed.
I certainly respect the need to prevent the release of sensitive information and prevent staff from wasting their time on endless requests. At the same time, there is a difference between asking staff to share data points needed to make a decision and seeking internal deliberative work that could undermine the Chairman’s agenda, which is certainly a much smaller universe. Commissioners can be informed if a project request is too time-consuming or staff intensive to see if modifications can be accommodated.
So, one of Chairman Pai’s most welcomed, yet least noted, process reforms has been his unequivocal direction that staff should be completely up front with all Commissioners, not just the Chairman. The message from the Chairman was that all staff will not withhold information requested by Commissioners or fail to share information that is pertinent to the many matters before us. This should be very liberating for staff as they don’t have to worry about being sent to the proverbial doghouse for helping Commissioners do their jobs.
While in some ways it might be easier for me as a member of the new majority to get my questions answered, I recognize that it places minority Commissioners in a terrible position, and I believe no one should ever be put in that position again. Add this one to the list of reforms for which Chairman Pai should be congratulated. It is also one that needs to be memorialized in a complete update of the Commission’s internal rulebook so the next Commission follows the same improvements.
New Priorities and Workload
At a time when Commission leadership has changed and is reconsidering and reconstructing its approach to many issues across the agency, there needs to be a realization from everyone that those priorities of the past Commission – not directly required by statute – should not necessarily be the focus of staff time. With resources at such a relative premium, staff attention shouldn’t be spent pursuing outdated goals. This concept should apply not only to our policy bureaus but the enforcement shop as well. And it’s more than just deleting Brutus Buckeye from our memory banks. For instance, it wouldn’t make sense to have staff still focus their valuable time on those cybersecurity and privacy issues over which the Commission lacks statutory authority. Moreover, our enforcement staff should move away from headline grabbing and eye popping penalties that will never be collected. Let’s refocus our attention on our statutory responsibilities and realize a new Chairman gets to set the Commission’s agenda.
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It is my hope that Commissioners and staff alike will embrace the new spirit of openness and take the step of getting on the same page. This has the best chance of producing lasting and positive changes for Americans.