Members of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology (Committee) issued a letter late last week requesting that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conduct an audit of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau (Bureau). The audit would focus exclusively on the Bureau and address its backlog of consumer complaints, its output and performance metrics and recent management decisions. Among the primary concerns for the Committee is the Bureau’s continued use of the number and monetary value of enforcement actions as the metrics to determine the success of its enforcement efforts.
This is not the first time that the GAO has reviewed the FCC’s procedures and management. In 2008, the GAO conducted a complete audit of the FCC and issued a report concluding that there were insufficient procedures in place in the Bureau and that unless the FCC implemented “key management tools” it may be difficult for the FCC to convince Congress that it is living up to its enforcement mission of “protecting the consumer, ensuring public safety and encouraging competition.” GAO provided a slew of recommendations for the FCC to improve its procedures.
Since the 2008 report, the Committee has requested several updates from the FCC on improvements to its internal processes, including a June 4, 2014 letter to Chairman Wheeler and in an April 2015 hearing. The FCC’s responses apparently left certain members of the Committee with serious reservations about the effectiveness of the Bureau’s management and its enforcement activities.
The Committee referenced several issues as the basis for its current request: the Bureau’s ineffective review of TCPA complaints, the dramatic decline in enforcement for pirate radio operations, and the Bureau’s decision to close 11 of the 24 field offices across the country. As a result, the Committee asked the GAO to consider several questions that target the effectiveness of the Bureau’s enforcement activities:
- Has the FCC implemented performance measures and performance goals consistent with GAO’s 2008 recommendations? If not, how does the FCC measure the effectiveness of the enforcement program?
- In the intervening seven years, would GAO recommend additional or revised recommendations to the FCC in effectively tracking the effectiveness of the FCC enforcement program?
- Is the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau meeting its mission of protecting the consumer, ensuring public safety, and encouraging competition? What changes should be made to improve performance to ensure that consumers are being protected and FCC leadership is accountable?
- The FCC has invested millions of dollars in IT improvements in the Enforcement Bureau and the Consumer & Government Affairs Bureau since 2007. How much has the FCC spent on these improvements? Have these improvements lead to an improved enforcement program at the FCC to the benefit of consumers and other stakeholders?
There is no deadline for a GAO report. However, this letter clearly demonstrates that Republican members of Congress are taking notice of the new management and focus at the Enforcement Bureau. It remains to be seen what, if any, changes the Bureau might make to respond to these concerns.