FCC to review internal procedures amid criticism

The Federal Communications Commission is forming a task force to review its internal procedures following criticism from Republicans, Chairman Tom Wheeler announced Thursday.

During testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Wheeler said he would appoint one staff member from each of the five commissioners to review and compare procedures of similar agencies. 

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"We should be constantly striving for improvement," Wheeler said, adding that the task force formation was prompted by recommendations from GOP commissioner Michael O'Rielly

The commission is under increased scrutiny following its approval of strong net neutrality rules, which Republicans and other critics say was an overreach.

It was the second day in a row the full commission testified before Congress and Wheeler's third day of testimony in a row. 

Republicans in Congress have expressed concern about the way the net neutrality order was handled. In February the committee launched an investigation into the broader operation of the FCC. 

The committee, which has oversight over the agency, has sought answers to whether the FCC is avoiding important commission votes by letting bureaus inside the agency handle issues, in a move known as delegated authority.

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. 

Wheeler said the task force will be led by his special counsel Diane Cornell, and it will determine whether more change is needed. 

O'Rielly, the GOP commissioner, has pushed for a number of changes, which include forcing the FCC to publicly release the text of all FCC orders before they are voted on by the commission. 

The early release became a major storyline in the net neutrality debate, as Wheeler repeatedly declined to break precedent and release the text early. Republicans on the commission and in Congress pressed for the early release, saying the large stakes warranted an exception. 

The other FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai said the "level of discord" within the commission has become unprecedented, referencing the increased number of partisan votes on high-profile issues. 

A number of procedural moves are being made to apparently "freeze out commissioners," he alleged. 

Wheeler defended his time at the helm.

He said that about 90 percent of commission votes are unanimous. However, many of the largest decisions, including net neutrality, have happened on a 3-2 vote. 

He also said more than 70 percent of commission orders are released after a single day. He also said the agency has used delegated authority less that past leaders.