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Pai Calls Past Handling of Consent Decrees “Abuse of Process”

New chairman changes another commission procedure

New FCC Chairman Ajit Pai doesn’t like the way the commission’s Enforcement Bureau has handled consent decrees. So: “That abuse of process ends now,” he said.

Some process changes are more notable than others; Pai calls this one important.

“One of the ways in which the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau resolves an investigation is by entering into a consent decree, in which the party being investigated agrees to comply with certain terms in exchange for the government closing its inquiry,” Pai wrote in his latest statement, one of several about commission processes issued since he took over the chairmanship.

“But over the past few years, in cases in which the full commission has previously voted to propose and/or impose a forfeiture, such consent decrees have generally not been presented to the commissioners for a vote. Instead, they have simply been signed by the chief of the Enforcement Bureau at the direction of the chairman’s office.” Many times, he said, commissioners had little notice of such consent decrees before they were released publicly.

Pai says that if commissioners vote to propose and/or impose a forfeiture, the Enforcement Bureau should not settle that matter without their approval.

“Therefore, I have instructed the Enforcement Bureau that starting today, any consent decree settling a Notice of Apparent Liability or Forfeiture Order issued by the full commission must now be approved by a vote of the full commission. This will help promote commissioners’ involvement in and accountability for important enforcement decisions.”

He said the change takes effect now, in fact with a consent decree being circulated today, one that would “conclude an important investigation previously approved by the full commission.” He didn’t say which one.

Travis LeBlanc is chief of the Enforcement Bureau.