‘Improved Transparency’ Needed For FCC’s Enforcement Bureau?


That’s the conclusion from a newly released report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) that addresses actions the Commission has taken since 2012 to update its enforcement program.

What does the GAO recommend?

“[The] FCC should establish and publish quantifiable performance goals and related measures for its enforcement program; and a communications strategy outlining its enforcement program for external stakeholders.”

The FCC concurred with the recommendations.

The GAO was asked to review the FCC’s management of its enforcement program, a.k.a. the Enforcement Bureau. Among the things GAO addresses are the Commission’s enforcement performance goals and measures, and selected stakeholders’ views on
the FCC’s enforcement program and external communications.

It reviewed enforcement policies and procedures; analyzed FCC’s performance measures and spoke with officials of similarly sized independent agencies with enforcement missions. GAO also interviewed FCC officials and 22 stakeholders from public and private organizations who were knowledgeable of the Enforcement Bureau and the communications industry.

The Commission (FCC) in 2012 implemented a new enforcement data system, which combined five previously separate databases and contains pertinent information related to each enforcement case. In 2014, FCC launched a new consumer complaints portal that FCC officials can use to identify trends and determine whether to investigate a particular company or practice.

The FCC also updated its internal enforcement program guidance, which includes case prioritization policies as well as timeliness goals for case resolution. Lastly, FCC completed its reorganization of the Enforcement Bureau’s field office division in January 2017, closing 11 of 24 field offices and decreasing personnel from 108 to 54.

FCC officials stated to the GAO they do not anticipate a decline in enforcement activity because FCC is taking steps to use the anticipated annual cost savings of $9 to $10 million from the reorganization to invest in training, equipment, and technology that will improve

“Given the recent changes, it is too early to determine the impact these actions will have on enforcement efforts,” the GAO concluded.

But, there is a transparency concern that GAO addresses.

“FCC has not quantified most of its enforcement performance goals and measures,” it says. “FCC officials told GAO that in 2009 the Chairman’s Office decided that narrative examples, rather than quantifiable goals and related measures, were the most appropriate way to report on the enforcement program.”

For example, the FCC’s 2016 Annual Performance Report describes details of settlements or fines levied without reporting such goals or measures. Although such metrics can be difficult to develop, GAO found that other enforcement agencies report quantified performance goals and related measures and that FCC has the data it would need to develop such goals and measures.

“Without meaningful program performance goals and measures, [the] FCC lacks important
tools for assessing and reporting on the progress of its enforcement efforts and
determining whether it should make changes to its program,” the GAO concluded. “The FCC also may be missing an opportunity to help promote transparency and support congressional oversight by clearly communicating enforcement priorities … Increased communication from FCC could improve transparency and stakeholder perceptions of FCC
enforcement actions.”