Everyone asks me nowadays what it's like to be the head of a regulatory agency when Congress goes through a change of control from the party that put you in your job to the opposing party. Suffice it to say that things are very, very different. However, the parallels between 1994 and 2006 are not exact. The new Republican majority in 1994 wanted government not to exist — to the degree possible and they thought it was very possible. The current new majority wants government to be based in reality and to do its jobs well and transparently: that's a very different agenda. The Republican majority proved over time to use investigations and inquiries in an extraordinarily crude and frankly ugly manner; whether the new majority now makes that mistake is yet to be proved and as a Democrat I certainly hope that if centrism and moderation has any sway in Washington it will be seen in a moderate approach to the use of Congressional investigatory power.
In 1994 the new Republican majority almost instantly created a coterie of advisers that was quite limited in its reach and ideological in its orientation. At the same time, many on the Hill were utterly dismissive of the competence of regulatory agencies. The new majority now should learn from this experience to build a big tent and to oblige agencies to be smart, not insult them by acting as if they were foredoomed to dumbness.
From the agencies' perspective, the most important learning of the 1994 changeover was that everyone had to fight political fights out in the open, making clear what might have been left merely assumed, making cogent cases that previously were regarded as closed. It was necessary to put speeches on line, hold forums, conduct debates, expand openness, state agendas, and develop goals. To this end, the FCC in those hoary and/or halcyon days put on line a white paper at year end that stated the full agenda for the coming year. Perhaps an idea worth replicating?
No one expects the White House or its appointees to change colors. Chameleons are not demanded. However, listening is newly important. Debating is newly important. The FCC in particular has very smart, very well-prepared commissioners on both sides of the aisle. Indeed, this is probably the most highly qualified commission as a group that has ever sat at the FCC. If everyone is open and above-board in discussing all important and many relatively unimportant issues, the change in Congress will prove to catalyze wise decisions, necessary action, and an elevation of the art of government.