New Chairman, Reform Legislation Opens Door, Says May
WASHINGTON D.C. - With a new chairman soon to be named to the Federal Communications Commission and efforts afoot on Capitol Hill to rewrite communications law, the time is ripe for consideration of serious institutional change at the FCC, argues Progress & Freedom Foundation Senior Fellow Randolph May. He argues his case for reform in a just-published article in the Administrative Law Review, "The FCC's Tumultuous Year in 2003: An Essay on an Opportunity for Institutional Agency Reform."
This issue has never been more timely, with President George W. Bush now tasked with selecting a successor to Michael Powell. The current FCC chairman announced he will step down in March. "Whoever is selected to lead the Commission next as chairman," May said, "I hope that he or she -- in addition to leading the substantive effort to achieve a deregulatory, market-oriented regime -- will also be willing to think about how the FCC should be reformed institutionally."
In a five-member agency, May writes, it becomes more likely that compromises made in reaching a decision "will lack clarity or even be internally contradictory." As one example he cites the 2003 Triennial Review order that was rejected by a federal court. May, PFF's director of communications policy studies, argues that the number of commissioners could be reduced to three, or even to an agency with a single head, and that this new, slimmer FCC could be put in the executive branch.
While not formally intending to endorse this approach, Powell has suggested the argument warrants consideration. At The Progress & Freedom Foundation 2003 Aspen Summit, Powell said not everything the FCC does has to be done at an independent agency. Powell said then "at some level you can argue that we ought to be in the administration and you ought to pursue the direction of the party that won the presidency in the political process..."
Powell's predecessor as FCC chairman, William Kennard, outlined a plan in 1999 to overhaul the agency for the 21st Century. But May writes that despite the renaming of some offices and the shuffling of some titles, "the FCC is little different today than it was then in terms of its size, structure and mission."
The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.