House Committee Seeks Documents From FCC

By Cecilia Kang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 13, 2008

A congressional investigation of alleged mismanagement at the Federal Communications Commission intensified yesterday with a request for documents dating back three years.

In a letter, Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and other ranking members of the Subcommittee on Oversight asked FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin to provide e-mails, memos, handwritten notes and meeting schedules. The subcommittee is probing how the agency conducted its open meetings, how it circulated items among the four other commissioners and how it put together reports, such as a controversial report on cable programming sales.

Dingell's office said the bipartisan investigation has broadened in scope since it was launched last December.

"Based on the information we've collected so far, this document request represents the areas that we believe warrant further investigation," Dingell said.

Martin, who took over the agency in March 2005, has been criticized for his secretive style and has been accused by some sources within the agency of delaying items or dragging out meetings to push through his own agenda.

Martin, who is in Thailand, for the International Telecommunication Union's annual symposium, was not available for comment. Mary Diamond, an FCC spokeswoman, said in response to the letter: "We look forward to continuing to cooperate with the committee."

Rebecca Argobast, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus, said although such inquiries are fairly common for agencies when there's a change of control in Congress, yesterday's letter seemed to detail more concerns than usual.

"This is really substantive and will really slow things down at the agency and be a burden for them," Argobast said.

Since the launch of the investigation, Martin has conducted monthly meetings with the news media, where he has publicly outlined items on the agenda.

The FCC has two weeks to produce the documents requested. Issues of concern to the House subcommittee include the agency's consideration of an audit of telecommunications carriers and a report on "a la carte" pricing for cable channels, which Martin supports. The letter also requests documents regarding several media-ownership studies produced by the agency.

Also requested: records on all hires and personnel reassignments since Martin took over as chairman and all five commissioners' schedules and travel records.

The allegations under investigation "relate to management practices that may adversely affect the commission's ability both to discharge effectively its statutory duties and to guard against waste, fraud and abuse," the members said in the letter.

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