WASHINGTON, September 17, 2009 – FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has “tried to hit the ground running” on a reform agenda since taking office last summer, he told members of a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Thursday.
During the first FCC oversight hearing of the 111th Congress, Genachowski was joined by all four of his colleagues as the full commission appeared before the Communications, Technology and Internet Subcommittee for the first time.
Many members of the subcommittee devoted significant time to praising the commission’s efforts for a national broadband strategy, which is scheduled to be delivered to Congress by February 2010. But the new chairman and colleagues are looking beyond the broadband plan towards ways to improving the operations of the FCC, they said.
While Genachowski’s tenure is only a few months old, he said he has already begun to articulate specific strategic priorities for the commission. These include “fostering investment and innovation, promoting competition, and protecting and empowering consumers, children, and families.” The commission has already begun work on these goals, he said.
Genachowski highlighted the commission’s series of open, public workshops on various aspects of the broadband plan, as well as the launch of the Broadband.gov web site to encourage yet more citizen input and dialogue on the FCC’s process.
He stressed as most important the idea that the plan should ensure the country has an “infrastructure appropriate to the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century,” he said.
Reform of the FCC is another of Genachowski’s goals as chairman, he told the subcommittee.
He noted that one of his first acts as chairman was to appoint a special counsel for FCC reform, and create a specific agenda for reform of the agency’s operations, including public safety readiness, data collection processes, comment filing systems, and streamlining and opening the commission’s workflow.
And he has also opened an internal forum on which FCC staff can submit ideas for reform, on which he said employees are involved in “hundreds of conversations on how to improve the agency.”
The FCC has also launched an initiative to reform its oft-maligned website –which Genachowski admitted is “many years out of date” requires a “significant upgrade.” The initiative will include upgrades and consolidation of the numerous licensing, commenting and complaint filing systems which will “give the public a consistent interface and will standardize business practices across Bureaus and Offices” throughout the commission, he said.
The commission’s approach to the national broadband plan should be “a model for future FCC proceedings,” commissioner Michael Copps said during his opening statement. Copps praised Genachowski’s leadership in pushing for “an open, transparent, and data-driven broadband process,” and expressed hope the broadband proceeding will be emulated in the future to “achieve maximum civic engagement with traditional and non-traditional stakeholders alike.”
Changing the way the commissioners are allowed to interact is another priority of the commission’s reform agenda. While answering a question on FCC reform and transparency from Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., Commissioner Michael Copps called for Congress to enact changes to the “sunshine rule” which prohibits more than two commissioners from meeting at one time.
Noting there are no such limitations on Congress’ ability to meet and conduct business, Copps quipped: “If you could only meet with one of your colleagues at once, you’d be in quite the fix.”
Comissioner Robert McDowell was equally enthusiastic on reforming the FCC’s internal processes and procedures. “First and foremost, the FCC should be a more open and collaborative place where all Commissioners are included in the idea formulation process early on,” he said.
While Genachowski has done much to enhance information flow and improve morale, McDowell said “a tremendous amount of FCC reform work remains to be done.”
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