Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Efficiency in the FCC

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) appears to be run as a freak show:

The Federal Communications Commission's monthly meetings are scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m. Under Chairman Kevin J. Martin, the trains don't always run on time, and recently they've come close to veering off the rails.

On Nov. 27, for instance, the FCC was slated to consider controversial proposals dealing with potential new cable TV regulations and increasing women and minority ownership of broadcast stations. Journalists, lobbyists and spectators waited as the five commissioners on the fractious panel wrangled over the issues eight floors above. When they finally showed up for the public session -- nearly 12 hours late -- the few spectators remaining had front-row seats for the sniping and accusations that are threatening to become hallmarks of FCC meetings.

Critics usually blame Martin, a soft-spoken Republican known as a political tactician who has accomplished the rare feat of being criticized by all four of his fellow commissioners. He is also facing a congressional inquiry into the FCC's procedures and allegations of flawed research studies, suppressing data, ignoring public input and holding hearings with minimal notice.

"The FCC appears to be broken," Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said during a hearing last week. Congressional Democrats' growing frustration with Martin could hinder his agenda. Last week, for example, a Senate committee passed legislation to delay Martin's planned vote this month on loosening media ownership rules.

In an interview, Martin said he was under fire for trying to force the FCC to deal with controversial topics. "It's not unusual for there to be tension in trying to work them out."

FCC employees and people who frequently deal with the agency said tensions were bogging down the panel. Reviews of corporate mergers and sales frequently stretch longer than the six months the agency aims for. Critics have complained that important issues -- such as the 2009 transition to digital television and reforming a fund that subsidizes phone and Internet service for low-income and rural residents -- are taking a back seat to bickering.

Pass out the popcorn, please.

Read the whole thing as they say. It is quite entertaining, and would be a lot more so if the issues the FCC is supposed to tackle weren't so important. Oh, and if they weren't getting paid from our taxes, while Martin is thumbing his nose at us.

There is a deeper point to this post, and that has to do with the question whether the voters who hate the government really wanted a government run along the lines of a very dysfunctional family.