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FCC’s O’Rielly: Reform Should Start With Eighth Floor

Commissioner calls again for FCC reforms, starting with decision-making processes in the chairman’s office

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly again called on his own organization to scrub up its internal processes at a keynote address to the Free State Foundation on July 28. He called on the commission to look beyond just process reform — things like reducing paperwork and improving interactions between FCC bureaus — and aim a tad higher.

“When I speak of process reform, I mean exposing the weaknesses and correcting the flaws in the mechanisms for decision-making at the commissioner or ‘Eighth Floor’ level,” he said, referring to the location of the commissioners’ offices. “I do not intend to suggest that all wisdom and power comes from the Eighth Floor, but only that it has more bearing on the benefits of reform.”

Some initial first steps have taken place, O’Rielly said, including a new Process Review Task Force created in March that would, among other steps, look at how to help the commissioners better govern together. This is not the first time that O’Rielly has called for procedural improvements at the FCC, including during several congressional subcommittee hearings.

But O’Rielly pointed to early areas of contention. “While it is somewhat early to provide a report card, it appears that there are differing interpretations of [the task force’s] mission, combined with selective backtracking by some from the task force’s purposes,” he said.

O’Rielly laid out a number of proposed changes that the task force consider, from simple ideas such as posting meeting items in advance and establishing time limits on agency orders, to one of O’Rielly’s more vocal complaints: that too much FCC business is conducted on “make-believe statutory authority.”

“I suggest that the commission be obligated to justify why and how each statutory provision is used in an item,” O’Rielly said. “Instead, it commonly adds sections 1, 2, 4(i) and 303(r) as a laundry list of authority to most items.”

He suggested the commission establish formal rules for all of its internal procedures, and suggested the task force examine practices used by other agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission, pointing to a potential headline-grabbing practice in which staff can be barred from working on an issue if three commissioners vote to do so.

O’Rielly was quick to say early on in his speech to the Free State Foundation, a political think tank that’s also advocated for improving the commission’s processes, that his call for reform should not be seen as a “revenge maneuver” for net neutrality. Commissioners O’Rielly and Ajit Pai both dissented on the ruling.