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Copps Wants to Fix ‘Frayed’ FCC

McDowell also sounds a note of reform

Saying lines of communication both inside and outside the FCC are “frayed,” interim Chairman Michael Copps has outlined changes he would like to implement.

Mindful of his temporary status as chairman, in a speech to employees he said he can only start the process of change and that a new chairman will eventually take up the reins. Copps said he expects that to happen soon.

Copps sought to set a tone for future operations at the agency, one that will likely be followed by his successor, who is expected to be Julius Genachowski, the FCC’s general counsel under Reed Hundt’s chairmanship and more recently President Obama’s tech advisor.

“We must be credible not only in what we do, but in how we go about doing it,” according to the text of Copps’ speech.

Change is needed in how various bureaus and offices work with each other; how commissioners communicate with one another and with bureaus; and how the commission communicates with the public, said Copps, now at the agency nearly eight years.

As wireless, wireline and video communications are more intertwined, there must be such convergence within the agency: “There is no reason I can see for not having the various bureaus and offices more closely collaborating with each other on issues of mutual interest.” He’s starting a weekly chairman’s office briefing with bureau and office chiefs or their representatives; the meetings will include representatives from each commissioner’s office, he pledged.

The factions within the agency operated more like silos under Chairman Martin, who, according to his fellow commissioners, centralized power in his office.

The DTV page on the FCC’s Web site will be revamped to make it more understandable to consumers, Copps said.

Meanwhile, Robert McDowell, now sole Republican commission at the FCC, called on interim Copps to reform the agency.

While not criticizing former Chairman Kevin Martin’s leadership by name, McDowell said in a letter that changes are needed to boost employee morale, make the FCC’s work more transparent and create a more “informed, collaborative and considerate decision-making process.”

“I certainly appreciate the new atmosphere you are creating at the commission, and I know the FCC’s talented and dedicated career employees appreciate your efforts as well,” stated McDowell, who called for a thorough operational, financial and ethics audit of the agency, including comment from the public and commission staff, anonymously, if the latter prefers.

The findings of such a review would provide the underpinnings to potentially restructure the agency. He agreed with the new chairman that delegating some authority back to upper- and mid-level management, filling many open positions and making better use of non-attorney professionals would be positive steps.

Providing at least six month’s notice on public meeting dates for 2010 and beyond would benefit the public, said McDowell.

McDowell agreed with Copps that overhauling the commission’s IT and Web systems is crucial.