Radio World has learned of a video conference call held between Michael Carowitz, the new acting chief of the FCC’s enforcement bureau, and some 33 current FCC EB field agents and their supervisors. The meeting comes as the FCC continues to implement a cost-saving modernization plan created by the former chairman, Tom Wheeler, that closed offices and trimmed the number of field agents.
According to a person familiar with discussions at the Monday meeting, Carowitz and FCC Field Director Charles Cooper mostly “stuck to the modernization plan talking points and gave no indication whether they might be changed” to better reflect the enforcement views of new Chairman Ajit Pai and some in Congress.
The FCC official confirmed the meeting and said, “Mr. Carowitz wanted to take time to talk to, and most importantly, listen to his colleagues in the FCC’s field offices.” A commission spokesperson declined to provide specifics on the internal staff conversations.
The commission tells Radio World it has now closed field offices in Anchorage, Buffalo, Detroit, Houston, Kansas City, Norfolk, Philadelphia, San Diego, Seattle, Tampa and San Juan, Puerto Rico as part of the modernization plan. It has 14 regional field offices remaining. The FCC has approximately 34 field agents remaining from a staff of about 60 prior to the reorganization. Several openings remain for field agents in Denver, New York and Washington, according to the source, though they are likely to remain open in light of the Trump administration’s federal hiring freeze.
As we’ve reported previously, the FCC’s overhaul plan also included the formation of several so-called “tiger teams” that would act as emergency on-call staff to address interference issues across the country. At least one special response team has been formed, according to a person familiar with the developments.
The move to reorganize field operations had been met with some opposition from industry observers worried that the moves would put additional pressure on remaining staff and create potential holes in the enforcement fence.
As a minority commissioner, Pai was critical of Wheeler’s plan to streamline field offices when it was announced in 2015 predicting the closures would “further erode the FCC’s enforcement abilities and lead to fewer enforcement actions.” It is not clear whether Pai has yet focused on this issue in his early time leading the agency.
“The chairman has not outlined any such specifics (about enforcement issues) thus far in his tenure,” the commission spokesperson said. “He has already been working to bolster commissioner engagement with the Enforcement Bureau, as seen in his process change to ensure that he and his colleagues vote on some settlements. In general, the Enforcement Bureau under Chairman Pai will be guided by the law and by evidence found during careful investigations.”
Separately, House Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chair Rep. Marsha Blackburn this week discussed the FCC during an interview on C-SPAN.
Blackburn said “the FCC is due for a reauthorization” that could come in the second half of this year. The FCC hasn’t been reauthorized since 1990. She signaled that it’s time to look at the structure of the FCC and figure out where needs are not being met.
“I would like to see the revitalization of the regional offices for the FCC so that if someone has as problem they are not finding themselves calling Washington, D.C., and then wait for someone to call them back and waiting even longer for someone to get out to them,” Blackburn told C-SPAN. “I think the convenience of working with a federal agency and having those regional offices operational is important.”
You can watch Blackburn’s C-SPAN interview here.