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Republicans question FCC watchdog's 'independence'

Republicans question FCC watchdog's 'independence'

House Republicans are taking aim at the inspector general of the Federal Communications Commission, accusing him of actions they say compromised the office's "independence."

“The growing interdependence of the Inspector General (“IG”) and the Office of the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission is eroding the public's trust in the IG’s office,” House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) wrote in a letter to the inspector general on Monday.

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The pair accused FCC inspector general David Hunt of sharing agency audits with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler before they were finalized. They also accused Hunt of allowing Wheeler's office to influence hiring decisions in the IG's office.

Upton and Walden called these potential conflicts of interest that had an “impact on the accountability of the FCC’s decision making and management.”

They asked that the inspector general's office to answer six questions no later than Oct. 31. They called the request "information necessary to understand the practical and working relationship between the Office of the Chairman and the Inspector General."

The Republican lawmakers also requested communications between the two offices dating back to Jan. 1, 2012.

It's only the latest incident pitting Republican lawmakers against the FCC.

During an FCC oversight hearing in September, Senate Commerce Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneFinger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight McConnell tees up Barrett nomination, setting up rare weekend session GOP power shift emerges with Trump, McConnell MORE (R-S.D.) hammered Wheeler, saying that his leadership could "undermine the credibility of the agency now and into the future,” and that his approach “could lead to a destabilizing and endless cycle of regulatory uncertainty."

Earlier in October, Thune released the findings of an FCC inspector general investigation into a leak regarding a deal over the commission's Lifeline program.

The IG probe concluded that Wheeler authorized staffers to leak information hours before a contentious agency vote on a proposal to expand the program, which covers phone subsidies for low-income people, to include broadband. Critics alleged that Wheeler leaked details to raise pressure on one of the FCC commissioner to back his version of the proposal.

While the report said that Wheeler’s office had authorized the leak, it did not accuse the chairman of any illegal or improper wrongdoing.

Thune said at the time that the report highlighted the agency's "dysfunction."