Scrutiny of FCC mounts with third investigation

Scrutiny of FCC mounts with third investigation
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Congressional committees are lining up to investigate the Federal Communications Commission. 

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday became the latest panel to launch a probe into whether the agency is fulfilling its responsibilities in a manner that's independent and transparent. 

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The panel’s investigation, however, goes far beyond the FCC’s development of net neutrality rules — something that other committees have made their sole focus. 

“Unfortunately, there are far too many instances where good process has been cast aside at the FCC and American consumers and job creators suffer as a result,” Republican leaders on the committee said in a statement. “This investigation is another step forward in raising the curtain at the FCC.”

The letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was signed by Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.). Walden leads the panel's subcommittee on Communications and Technology, while Murphy leads the subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. 

The committee, which has oversight over the agency, wants answers as to whether the FCC is avoiding important commission votes by letting bureaus inside the agency handle issues. It is also investigating allegations that Wheeler’s office has not always given commissioners — Republicans in particular — adequate time to review some orders before a vote. 

The committee wants to know the FCC’s policies when responding to Congress, citing an incident last year when it took months to get an answer from the agency about performance measures. 

The House Oversight Committee and the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee launched investigations earlier this month into the specific question of whether the White House had undue influence on the agency’s net neutrality rules.

Lawmakers launching the new probe Thursday expressed concerns about the net neutrality rule-making process, but also raised other questions. In all, the panel cites seven issues that it said led to the investigation while requesting all related documents by March 4. 

The largest issue is Wheeler’s use of “delegated authority,” which allows the agency’s bureaus to handle routine or non-controversial matters without a commission vote. 

Republicans on the commission have complained that sometimes that authority is overused for matters that should be considered by the full commission. 

In the letter to Wheeler, the GOP congressmen said the authority is “not appropriate for use with regard to new or novel questions of law or policy.”