The General Accounting Office has charged that the Federal Communications Commission is poorly managed and has severe staff morale problems -- and FCC Chairman Charles Ferris surprisingly agreed.

In a 143-page report to Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Communications subcommittee, the GAO said its 10-month investigation revealed that "structural, organizational and procedural changes" were needed to bolster the beleaguered agency.

The release of the report led to a call for congressional oversight hearings by Rep. Lionel Van Deerlin (D-Cal.), chairman of the House Communications subcommittee.

"The FCC is in trouble," Van Deerlin said in a recent interview. He said he would begin hearings as soon as Congress reconvenes in the fall "to make sure that taxpayers' dollars are used the way they should be -- for efficient and effective regulation.

"There is a saying that goes, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it,'" Van Deerlin said. "Well the GAO study shows the FCC is broke, and Congress has the responsibility to fix it."

The report criticized the agency for lacking comprehensive planning, failure to get needed information to agency officials, poor performance feedback, weak budgeting and analysis, and for giving inadequate attention to personnel management, among other charges.

The report calls for several structural changes at the FCC, including a major reorganization of authority, reduction of the number of commissioners from seven to five, lengthening of commissioners' terms, and others. All such changes would require amendments to the Communications Act of 1934.

Also called for was increased congressional oversight and involvement in the FCC regulatory process, increased public participation in that process and more staff support for commissioners.

The report was strongest in the areas of planning and personnel management.

"The absence of comprehensive planning has had repercussions on FCC's organization and policies," the report noted. "Without planning, overall management has been weakened." Because of planning problems that "exacerbated regulatory delay," the report said, "the FCC has found itself in an ad hoc, reactive regulatory posture."

In addition, the report stated, some bureaus of the FCC are taking on more than they can handle because of inadeguate planning.

Key FCC officials 'shared the view that FCC did not have the time to plan," the report stated. "In addition, several key bureau and office officials expressed the view that FCC was a 'service agency' and that as a result it was dependent on the regulated industry for its workload. . . . They described their planning efforts as primarily setting aside individuals to "think about the future.'"

"Several factors have contributed to FCC's problems in personnel management, including the inability of FCC's Personnel Division . . . to effectively exercise its responsibilities in planning, organizing, implementing, and administering personnel management programs," the report noted.

The report found that under-utilization of engineers and lawyers is a major problem of the agency, and that there was inadequate chance for upward mobility, a situation that the GAO said causes major morale problems.

"Many employes feel that the lack of an upward mobility program ensures that they will remain permanently trapped in 'deadend' clerical, secretarial, or applications examiner positions," the report said.

In his statement, Ferris agreed with most of the GAO findings, but said changes were already under way at the agency, which he took over less than two years ago.

"The problems the GAO identified are the same problems our staff has identified and has been working to correct the past 21 months since I became chairman."

In the area of public participation, Ferris said, "We have recently created an office of public affairs, (and) considerably enlarged the size of that office's consumer assistance division, which is chiefly responsible for public participation."

Ferris did take exception to GAO criticism of the FCC's planning process. "Simply because we do not allocate thousands of hours to producing documents labeled 'long-range planning' does not mean that effective planning is not going on," he said.

"Basically, however, I endorse the GAO findings and believe we are well into the task of bringing about change that will bring the FCC updated management tools."

Regulatory Council Chairman Douglas Costle has asked the governors of 21 states to work with the council in identifying "inconsistent and duplicative regulatory requirements in the mining and use of coal."

Costle said the council will seek to work with the several federal agencies regulating coal production to eliminate overlapping areas.

Federal Trade Commission Administrative Law Judge Morton Needleman, presiding over the controversial children's advertising proceeding, has asked the FTC to hold more hearings to deal with three issues:

To what extent can children between the ages of 2 and 11 distinguish between commercials and programs and at what point can they comprehend the selling purpose of advertising?

At what point can those same children defend against the persuasive techniques used in the commercials?

What health effects -- actual or potential -- result from any proven lack of understanding of selling intent or inability to defend against persuasive techniques?