By a voice vote conducted on Monday, members of the U.S. House of Representatives passed the FCC Process Reform Act (FPRA), which prescribes several important changes to the FCC rulemaking process to promote transparency, access to information, and opportunities for public participation in agency proceedings. Sponsored by House Communications & Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR), the bill resembles legislation that passed the House during the previous Congressional session but later died for lack of action.
As approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in June, the FPRA requires the FCC to establish (1) minimum periods for public comment in rulemaking proceedings and for other “significant regulatory actions,” (2) procedures for placing the specific language of proposed rules in notices of proposed rulemaking, and (3) performance measures for assessing the effectiveness of rules adopted by the agency. Although the committee also adopted language that would have required the FCC to publish the text of proposed rules three weeks before the agency votes on those rules, Republican leaders later removed that provision in a quest to win Democratic support for a floor vote under a suspension of House rules that require a two-thirds majority for passage. Negotiators also agreed to add language, offered by Democrats, requiring “a report on actions the Commission can take to improve the participation of small businesses in FCC proceedings” and “publication of any internal policies established or changed by the [FCC] Chairman.”
Describing the FPRA as “the product of a multi-year, bipartisan legislative process,” Walden maintained that the bill, once adopted and signed into law, will “[bring] us to a place where we can at least begin to create a framework for more transparent and predictable rulemakings at the FCC.” In remarks to the press, USTelecom President Walter McCormick applauded the legislation as “an important step that will provide for streamlined regulatory processes and increased regulatory certainty.” As he acknowledged that a parallel bill pending before the Senate has yet to advance beyond the committee stage, Walden told reporters: “hopefully, this year, they will take it up.”