I have been blogging on ex parte reform on my own blog for a while and have repeatedly complained to the FCC about the entity that I believe is the worst offender. Indeed, I have a petition for review of the latest in a series of staff rejections of complaints that has been pending before the Commission since September 2008.
In that petition, I quote former Commissioner Abernathy who
said to an ITU meeting
“I believe that transparency is best achieved through the creation and publication of clear rules. However, for the regulatory regime to be successful, these rules must also be strictly enforced. Based on personal experience, I know that the U.S. regulatory model has only been successful when the FCC has enforced its rules vigorously. Failure to enforce rules sends the inappropriate signal that companies may engage in anticompetitive behavior or other unlawful conduct with impunity.”
Let me provide for potential commenters some facts that are not in the NPRM.
In 2009, there were 6070 ex parte notifications filed at FCC. The numbers for 2008 and 2007 were 10,046 and 7,960 respectively. I assume that the drop in 2009 was due to both the inevitable drop in activity with major changes at the Commission and the distraction of the DTV transition.
I believe that the Commission's ex parte rules were heavily influenced by Recommendation No. 77-3 of the former Administrative Conference of the U.S., formerly codified as 1 C.F.R. 305-77.3. The HBO Case mentioned in Chmn. Genachowski's statement was in March 2007 and the ACUS recommendation was made in October of that year. The ACUS recommendation stated “Agencies should experiment in appropriate situations with procedures designed to disclose oral communications from outside the agency of significant information or argument respecting the merits of proposed rules, made to agency personnel participating in the decision on the proposed rule, by means of summaries promptly placed in the public file, meetings which the public may attend, or other techniques appropriate to their circumstances.”
While the NPRM mentions ex parte policies at 3 other commissions, it fails to mention the key fact that parallel policies are in place at all regulatory agencies, be they independent agencies like FCC or Executive Branch agencies. But only FCC has the system where the outside party files the summary that goes on the public record. Thus in the 30 odd years that ex parte procedures have been used for agency rulemaking, no other agency has ever adopted the FCC's approach. Perhaps the Commission should ask why?
Finally, the NPRM states in para. 32 “Regardless of what amendments are adopted in this proceeding or when, we intend to place greater emphasis on enforcement against impermissible ex parte contacts.” This implies there has been some previous emphasis on enforcement. A fairer statement is that enforcement has been ignored for decades. At the October public workshop the staff stated that it dealt with complaints by calling the party at issue and telling them not to do it again. This is reminiscent of the comedy skit in which an unarmed British policemen says to a fleeing robber “Stop or I'll say stop again”. As far as I can tell, the Commission has NEVER taken ANY ex parte enforcement action. While the NPRM mentions the possibility of “monetary forfeitures”, I doubt that it has legal authority to do so. However, it does have the authority – unused to date – to forbid future oral ex parte by the guilty party and that should be more than adequate IF there is any interest in enforcing these rules.