H.R. 2583, Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act, as amended

H.R. 2583

Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act, as amended

Date
November 16, 2015 (114th Congress, 1st Session)

Staff Contact
Communications

Floor Situation

On Monday, November 16, 2015, the House will consider H.R. 2583, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Process Reform Act of 2015, as amended, under suspension of the rules.  H.R. 2583 was introduced on May 29, 2015 by Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) and was referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, which ordered the bill reported, as amended, by voice vote on June 3, 2015.

Bill Summary

H.R. 2583 amends the Communications Act of 1934 to provide for greater transparency and efficiency in the procedures followed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Specifically, the bill requires the FCC to:[1]

  • Complete a rulemaking proceeding and adopt procedural changes to its rules, within one year of enactment, to maximize opportunities for public participation and efficient decision-making;
  • Set minimum comment and reply comment periods for rulemaking proceedings;
  • Establish policies concerning extensive comments toward the end of a comment period;
  • Establish policies to ensure that the public has time to review material submitted in a proceeding after the comment cycle has closed;
  • Publish the status of open rulemakings as well as list the draft items the Commissioners are currently considering;
  • Establish deadlines for action on certain filings to the Commission and its bureaus;
  • Establish guidelines for the disposition of petitions for declaratory ruling;
  • Establish procedures for including the specific text of proposed rules in Commission Notice of Proposed Rule Makings;
  • Require the development of performance measures for FCC program activities (defined as each FCC program listed in the federal budget or each program through which the FCC annually collects or distributes $100 million or more);
  • Seek public comment on a notice of inquiry into whether and how the Commission should: (1) allow a bipartisan majority of Commissioners to add an item to the Commission’s agenda; (2) inform Commissioners of all options available on a given Commission item; (3) ensure that Commissioners have adequate time to review the text of Commission items; publish the text of items for Commission consideration prior to Commission vote; (4) establish deadlines for the processing of applications for licenses; (5) generate additional resources for the processing of applications; and (6) publish Commission decisions within thirty days of adoption;
  • Conduct a rulemaking to review the rules established pursuant to the bill every five years;
  • Provide links on the Commission’s website to the current budget, appropriations, number of full-time equivalent employees, and the Commission’s performance plan;
  • Publish the documents specified in the Federal Register no later than forty-five days after release of the document or the day specified under any other provision of law;
  • Put consumer complaint information and other specified documents on its website;
  • Inform the public about its performance in meeting the disclosure requirements of the Freedom of Information Act;
  • Establish a schedule for the release of required reports; and,
  • Report annually regarding its performance in meeting the deadlines and guidelines established in the bill.

The bill also exempts the Universal Service Fund (USF) from provisions of the Antideficiency Act through December 31, 2020.

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[1] See Energy and Commerce Committee Markup Memorandum, May 29, 2015.

Background

The FCC regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. An independent government agency overseen by Congress, the Commission is the primary regulatory agency for communications in the United States.[2]

The Commission is directed by five Commissioners who are appointed by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The President also selects one of the Commissioners to serve as chairman. Only three Commissioners can be of the same political party at any given time and none can have a financial interest in any commission-related business. All Commissioners, including the chairman, have five-year terms, except when filling an unexpired term.[3]

The reforms made by H.R. 2583 are needed, according to the Committee, “to remedy the numerous process failings at the FCC during the tenures of both Republican and Democratic chairmen.”[4]  In 2008, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners wrote President Obama’s transition team, highlighting the need for structural and procedural reforms at the FCC and suggesting thirteen separate reforms to consider.[5]

In 2010, a Public Knowledge report called for a ‘‘shock to the system’’ and ‘‘a surrender of discretion by FCC leadership and a move away from unpredictable and ad hoc decision-making.’’ The report

detailed a number of reforms similar to those included in H.R. 2583, including “additional transparency in editorial privileges after a Commission vote or identification of items delegated to bureaus for decision; self-imposed deadlines for Commission action on petitions and other matters; increased empowerment of Commission staff; and effective communication with the public regarding its internal processes.”[6]

Former FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell has twice called for financial and ethics audits of the agency, as well as a review of the external communications from the agency.  Former Chairman Julius Genachowski called regulatory reform a ‘‘top priority’’ of his Chairmanship and appointed a Special Counsel for FCC Reform ‘‘to ensure high-level attention to this vitally important issue.’’  Current Chairman Tom Wheeler has also appointed a special counsel to review and institute procedural reforms and recently convened a task force to assess the decision-making procedures at the agency.[7]  H.R. 2583 is designed to ensure needed procedural reforms are implemented.

According to the bill’s sponsor, the legislation “is based on the premise that the American people are better served by a more transparent and efficient Federal Communications Commission.”[8]

On March 11, 2014, the House passed substantively similar legislation (H.R. 3675) by voice vote.  The Senate did not act on that measure during the 113th Congress.

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[2] https://www.fcc.gov/what-we-do
[3] Id.
[4] House Report 114-305 at 9.
[5] Id.
[6] Id.
[7] Id.
[8] See Press Release—“Committee Says #Yes2Transparency at the FCC: Approves FCC Process Reform Act,” June 3, 2015.

Cost

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that enacting H.R. 2583 would change the timing of spending from the Universal Service Fund, which would affect direct spending over the 2016 to 2025 period; therefore, pay-as-you-go procedures apply. CBO estimates, however, that the timing changes would net to zero over the ten-year period. Enacting H.R. 2583 would not affect revenues.  CBO further estimates that implementing H.R. 2583 to amend the FCC’s operating procedures would cost $10 million over the next five years; such spending would be subject to the availability of appropriated funds. Under current law, the FCC is authorized to collect fees sufficient to offset the cost of its regulatory activities each year. Therefore, CBO estimates that the net cost to implement those provisions of H.R. 2583 would not be significant, assuming annual appropriation actions consistent with the agency’s authorities.

Additional Information

For questions or further information please contact Jerry White with the House Republican Policy Committee by email or at 5-0190.