House Dem slams GOP plan for FCC reform

The ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce committee slammed the GOP's plan for process reform at the Federal Communications Commission at a hearing Wednesday, arguing it would make the commission "less efficient and more bureaucratic."

In his opening statement for the subcommittee on Communications and Technology hearing, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) argued the draft legislation from Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) would place an undue burden on the FCC and could result in slower decision-making.

"I am concerned that we are making procedural changes in an attempt to address outcomes with which we don’t agree," Waxman said, suggesting the bill is a reaction to the merger conditions agreed to by Comcast as part of its acquisition by NBC Universal.

Walden and other Republicans have been critical of the length of the review and the number of conditions placed on the merger. In his opening statement he noted the bill is only a discussion draft and that the process is still open, something he would like to see more of at the FCC.

"Congress has the authority and the responsibility to ensure that the agency — conducting the public's business — does so with transparency and accountability," Walden said.

"It's not asking too much to have the FCC actually codify a set of best practices and operate by them. One idea in this mold is to ask the FCC to establish shot clocks so that parties know how quickly they can expect action in certain proceedings."

Another provision in the bill would allow three or more commissioners to meet at once in private, as long as they don't vote or take certain other actions. That aspect of the bill was originally crafted by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and has bipartisan support.

Walden dismissed Waxman's criticism of a provision that would require cost-benefit analyses for rules that could impose a burden on industry. Waxman argued the analyses are only appropriate for major rules.

"And trust me, the old argument that such a requirement will bog down the agency just doesn't cut it," Walden said. "I've never met an agency that didn't use this argument, yet they always seem to find money to buy new vehicles and buildings."

Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) praised FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski for taking some steps to reform the way the agency does business, but argued more can be done. He suggested the legislation already "strikes the right balance" but said he welcomes bipartisan input.

This story was updated at 5:50pm.