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Democracy & Technology Blog Report hits Martin’s leadership

A report prepared by the staff of the House Energy & Commerce Committee is critical of FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s leadership. Among the findings: “There are instances in which the Chairman manipulated, withheld, or suppressed data, reports, and information … in an apparent attempt to enable the Commission to regulate cable television companies.”
The report mentions that Martin’s actions “have certainly undermined the integrity of the staff. Moreover, it was done with the purpose affecting Congressional decision-making…”
Oh, and the report notes that there is some friction between Martin and some or all of his four fellow commissioners. The report concludes that Martin’s management style is “heavy-handed, opaque, and non-collegial,” and that his leadership has led to “distrust, suspicion, and turmoil among the five current Commissioners.”
Martin said in a statement he has merely sought to “enhance choice and competition in the market for video services.”
I completely disagree with Martin’s policy agenda when it comes to the cable industry.
And I would certainly like to see integrity and collegiality at the FCC.
But my first glance at the report reminded me of a former FCC chairman during the Clinton administration who had the audacity to try to enhance choice and competition in the market for telephone services. His name was Reed E. Hundt. And his telephone policy agenda was as bad as Martin’s cable policy agenda.
Like Martin, Hundt had his enemies.
In his memoirs, Hundt recounts

the other commissioners told anyone who would listen that I was arrogant, imperious, stubborn, self-righteous, deceitful. They tried numerous forms of embarrassment, ranging from leaking confidential documents to (my favorite) drawing a caricature of me on the wall.

Hundt also has this to say about his own efforts to reach out to his colleagues:

Despite the contentiousness on the eighth floor, I occasionally made an effort to be a clubbable chairman. To this end, one day that fall, I visited Jim Quello’s office. As usual, he was friendly enough; at least he was willing to have me sit down. Of the other two in the Gang of Three, one would rarely meet and the other would never meet with me alone.

The purpose of this report is to ensure that the FCC is fair, open and transparent, the implication being that it hasn’t been so under Martin.
But, again to be fair, Hundt also tried to ram things through:

Almost everyone at the agency thought it was unbearable that Congress had commanded the FCC to conduct specific rulemaking in statutorily set time periods … The impossible deadlines, in fact, were a stroke of luck. They permitted my team to rush the items past the other commissioners to votes, insisting on our interpretation of law, and brooking no delays ….
To put even more pressure on the other commissioners, I announced that I expected to obtain a unanimous vote on all items. If the Gang of Three could not agree with my team’s recommendations, I hoped to invoke memories of the Republican shutdown of government. I wanted the Gang of Three to fear that the public would blame them, as it had the Congress, for failure to produce results.

I am not defending everything Martin did as FCC chairman; only pointing out that no one up on the Hill conducted an investigation of Hundt’s management style. And there is always a danger these investigations can mask a hidden agenda to personalize policy differences.
Both Hundt and Martin had ambitious agendas which they were or are determined to move. But the FCC is a place where things languish for eternity or are compromised to the point of meaninglessness. If we want to be rid of authoritarian chairmen, we will have to look more deeply into process reforms.

Hance Haney

Director and Senior Fellow of the Technology & Democracy Project
Hance Haney served as Director and Senior Fellow of the Technology & Democracy Project at the Discovery Institute, in Washington, D.C. Haney spent ten years as an aide to former Senator Bob Packwood (OR), and advised him in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Communications Subcommittee during the deliberations leading to the Telecommunications Act of 1996. He subsequently held various positions with the United States Telecom Association and Qwest Communications. He earned a B.A. in history from Willamette University and a J.D. from Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon.