Congressional Panel Investigates FCC, Hints at Agency Incompetence

A congressional committee on Wednesday asked for a trove of documents from the Federal Communications Commission as part of an ongoing investigation of the agency.

The letter requests e-mails, memoranda, handwritten notes, meeting schedules and other records relating to a long list of agency activities dating back to January 2005.

Investigators are seeking documents pertaining to the delay of commission meetings, details surrounding the preparation of various agency reports and guidelines on agency communications "including any limitations or restrictions imposed upon FCC employees' ability to communicate with each other concerning official agency business."

The bipartisan request was contained in a letter sent to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and signed by the chairmen and ranking members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and its oversight subcommittee. The investigation was first announced in December.

In Wednesday's letter, the congressmen wrote that the committees are investigating "allegations from current and former FCC employees and other sources" that relate to "management practices that may adversely affect the Commission's ability both to discharge effectively its statutory duties and to guard against waste, fraud, and abuse."

FCC spokeswoman Mary Diamond said Wednesday that "we look forward to continuing to cooperate with the committee."

Among the documents sought were any that contained details related to a November 2004 report that was critical of the concept of cable channel choice, or "a la carte." Martin has been a strong supporter of a la carte, which is opposed by the cable television industry.

Once Martin became chairman, the agency released a second a la carte report that was more favorable to the a la carte idea. The letter asks for records related to the "decision to discard or change the conclusions reached" in the first report.

The letter also sought documents that may shine some light on a turbulent commission meeting that took place on Nov. 27 where Martin was accused of selectively withholding data from a report on competition in the cable television industry to favor his position.

The letter asks for details regarding the report and "any directive or instructions given to FCC employees concerning staff's ability to discuss with any of the four Commissioners or their staffs the existence or substance of other data sources ... ."

The committees also seek information regarding recent media ownership studies, decisions on hiring and staff reassignments, how decisions are made regarding audits of telecommunications carriers and other issues.

Investigators also requested records regarding an agency inspector general's investigation of a media ownership report that a former FCC lawyer said was suppressed under a previous chairman. The letter seeks "the complete, un-redacted investigative case file" relating to the investigation.

Investigators also asked for copies of meeting schedules of the five FCC commissioners and senior staff members as well as official travel records of the commissioners and the chief of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau.

The committee asked that the documents be provided within two weeks of the date of the letter.