We had some inordinately interesting congressional testimony recently from David L. Hunt, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s inspector general.
IG Hunt appeared on Wednesday, September 17 before the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. The topic? “Oversight of FCC Budget and Management.”
What exactly does IG Hunt and his FCC Office of the Inspector General (OIG) do?
(T)he Inspector General (IG) and his office provide objective and independent investigations, audits, and reviews of the FCC’s programs and operations.
Incident thereto, the Inspector General provides recommendations to detect and prevent fraud, waste and abuse in FCC programs and operations….
The Inspector General informs the Chairman and Congress of fraud or any serious problems with the administration of FCC programs and operations discovered during audits, investigations and reviews.
The OIG — via “audits, investigations and reviews” — makes sure the FCC doesn’t stray from the straight and narrow.
So what IG Hunt has to say in his written testimony is more than a bit disturbing:
“Very shortly after Chairman Wheeler took his office, I was informed by his Chief of Staff that OIG would not be allowed to hire criminal investigators.
“I have continued a dialogue with management, but to no avail.”
Get that? Chairman Wheeler refuses to allow Hunt’s OIG to hire any people to investigate possible criminal behavior conducted by … Chairman Wheeler, and his FCC.
This makes the following even more problematic: ‘Most Transparent Ever?’ Behold the FCC’s Secret, Crony Socialist Meetings
During which Chairman Wheeler is inviting companies opposed to Comcast’s Time Warner Cable acquisition to testify — secretly.
Is this a possible breach of law?
In my decades-long experience with FCC matters, it is fairly unusual, if not unprecedented, for the FCC to take the initiative in encouraging confidential complaints in the context of an on-the-record merger review proceeding. The fact that it is doing so here caught my “administrative law” eye.
(As a former Chair of the American Bar Association’s Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice, a current member of the Administrative Conference of the United States, and a current Fellow at the National Academy of Public Administration, I do have such an “administrative law” eye. But, of course, I am speaking here only for myself.)…
In administrative law terms, the FCC’s merger review proceeding – a proceeding in which the FCC is considering applications to approve the transfer of specific spectrum licenses and other specific authorizations – is an adjudicatory proceeding affecting the legal rights of the parties to the applications.
In most cases, adjudicatory proceedings are “restricted” proceedings. This means that ex parte, or off-the-record, contacts between interested parties and Commission decision-making officials are not allowed. In restricted proceedings, all communications between interested parties and FCC officials must be on-the-record.
Sounds very much like something for which IG Hunt could use some criminal investigators. Just in case.
Too bad the guy he needs to investigate — Chairman Tom Wheeler — refuses to let him hire any.