Thursday, October 30, 2014

Thanks – But Don’t Stop Now!

By Deborah Taylor Tate

A relatively small article which recently appeared under Communications Daily’s section entitled “Notebook” certainly deserves more ink and some applause.

As taxpayers, advocates, and attorneys, we often complain about the inefficiencies of government but rarely say “thank you” when someone – in this case, Diane Cornell, Special Counsel to the Chairman of the FCC – actually tackles the problem head on. With all that is before the Federal Communications Commission, it takes a truly dedicated public servant (and maybe a little bit of an “APA nerd”) to initiate and take on the thankless job of changing processes across all the various bureaus at the FCC that go unquestioned and thus unchanged for decades.

Around the year 2000, I did much the same thing at the state level as Chairman of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority cleaning out over 1,000 stagnant, moot, and often irrelevant dockets. Reviewing internal administrative processes, stale complaints, and thousands of pages of legal briefs is no fun. However, not doing it is a disservice to the public and the entities being regulated.

Over the past few months, Ms. Cornell established a “consent docket,” something I have been advocating for almost a decade. The numbers of closures and dismissals have been substantial – over 700 in several bureaus and a 26% reduction in the backlog in the Wireless Bureau alone. (Especially since the Wireless Bureau has some pretty daunting issues such as the upcoming spectrum auctions on its plate.)

However, the job is not done. There needs to be an established and regular “spring cleaning” which is not dependent on a single individual’s proactivity. Ms. Cornell will need to accomplish this by encouraging the Chairman and full Commission to adopt administrative processes that will become official and institutionalized. While the FCC will never be able to keep up with the speed of technology, at least it could become more efficient internally – sua sponte.

In addition to my congratulations, I am still hopeful that the FCC will accept another important recommendation: establish more pathways for formal mediation and alternative dispute resolution – recognized by courts and even other federal agencies as successful ways to streamline decision-making and reduce the cost and time of litigation and appeals.

Everyone wins, including the FCC.

Of course, the true efficiencies of the agency could be recognized if the FCC refrained from delving into issues, regulation, and rulemaking beyond its clear legal authority.

Ms. Cornell, the bureau chiefs, and the FCC staff should be thanked for spearheading this effort toward increased government efficiency throughout the agency. And, for realizing that sometimes some pretty good ideas can come from across the aisle.