When Democratic FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski appears before the House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee at a Feb. 16 oversight hearing, he should expect tough questioning about one of his signature claims: that under his leadership, the agency always operates in an open and transparent manner. During a Wednesday speech to the Ripon Society, a Republican group, panel chairman Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., revealed that he plans to hammer the Democratic FCC chief -- who was caught flat-footed last year conducting secret meetings with lobbyists that were not publicly disclosed as required by agency rules -- on the issue.
In particular, Walden wants answers as to why the chairman waited until nearly midnight on the eve of the agency's controversial December vote on new "network neutrality" rules for broadband providers to share a major rewrite of the regulatory proposal with the FCC's two GOP members. At the time, Robert McDowell, the agency's senior Republican, complained that his office received the latest draft from the chairman at 11:42 pm the night before the vote. He also accused the chairman of "dumping" roughly 3,000 pages of public comment into the docket just days or hours before the final deadline for public input.
"It's not a good way to do business. We've certainly done that here [in Congress], and the public said, 'Stop it,' " Walden told the audience during a breakfast event, noting that his concerns about a lack of FCC transparency extend to previous commissions. Under Genachowski's predecessor, Kevin Martin, the agency's Democratic regulators (including Michael Copps, who continues to serve on the commission) routinely accused the GOP chairman of using similar tactics, which they always characterized as unfair and an abuse of power.
(photo: Genachowski tours 2011 CES showroom floor; credit: David Hatch, National Journal)