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Courteous or Carping, Commissioners Feel Their Way

Pai embraces two more small process changes; Clyburn unhappy with "news dump"

The Federal Communications Commission under President Trump has only three members right now; it has met publicly only once and has yet to make any truly sweeping policy moves; so we have yet to see just how various issues will play out there. But the early days, during which new Chairman Ajit Pai has focused on what he calls process reform and transparency, have seen the two Republicans and one Democrat issue a flurry of statements suggesting that all three are kinda feeling their way around their new normal right now.

For instance, Pai says both of his colleagues have made good suggestions about process reform so he’s adopting them. Yet this comes on the heels of a separate statement Friday from the lone Democrat complaining about what she called a “news dump.”

On Tuesday Pai seemed to seek themes of transparency and collegiality, as he has in other announcements; his statement opened with, “It is a privilege to serve at the Federal Communications Commission with two talented and thoughtful colleagues,” referring to Democrat Mignon Clyburn and Republican Michael O’Rielly.

“Commissioner Clyburn has suggested that when the agency releases the text of meeting items, we should also release a one-page fact sheet that summarizes the proposal in question,” Pai wrote. “She notes that this could make the item that we release accessible to more Americans. I agree. The FCC will do this beginning with the release of any items for the March meeting.”

Meanwhile O’Rielly, Pai said, had proposed that any substantive edits made to a particular item between the time it is circulated and the meeting at which the commissioners vote should have to be proposed by a commissioner, rather than staff. “This reform will help promote accountability and allow commissioners to better understand where edits are coming from,” Pai said. “We will therefore implement this reform immediately.” (O’Rielly calls it the “own your edits” idea.)

O’Rielly in turn expressed support for these steps. “While both relatively small fixes, this bodes well for the new commission’s ability to work together to get our processes into better shape.”

But not all process discussions have been harmonious. On Friday, Clyburn issued a statement criticizing commission bureaus for retracting a number of items without what she considered sufficient notice or explanation. She said Friday must have been “take out the trash day” in reference to an episode of “The West Wing” in which government actions are announced all at once at the end of a week in hopes they aren’t noticed; she called it a “news dump.”

Clyburn said the dozen or so changes rescinded actions under former Chairman Wheeler focusing on “competition, consumer protection, cybersecurity and other issues core to the FCC’s mission.” She said her office had requested more than the two days to review the items. “We were rebuffed. Then, we simply asked to have the bureaus comply with the reasoned decision-making requirements of the [Administrative Procedure Act]. No deal. It is disappointing to see this chairman engage in the same actions for which he criticized the prior chairman.”