Guest Speakers & Questions at FCC Open Meetings

Over the years, Open Meetings at the FCC have taken a variety of formats. At one time, Open Meetings were working sessions exactly where issues were debated live and staff were questioned about various policy choices. More recently, they have been summaries of decisions already made that are capped off by an official vote. Lately, it has even become typical to invite select guest speakers to Open Meetings to provide testimony in addition to the Bureau presentations.

Guest Witnesses

While I fully support improving the functionality of the Open Meetings when it comes to structure and process, I am not really convinced that adding guest speakers is beneficial or appropriate. While witnesses may provide valuable insight into problems the Commission is considering, these types of presentations come far too late along the way to inform the outcome of an item. Indeed, they fall within a no-mans-land exactly where they are practically too late to be ex-mate partes but technically too early to be congratulatory. Therefore , it’s not clear what substantive value is gained simply by inviting stakeholders to speak in a Open Meeting. If the only purpose is to add a glitzy spectacle, then that’s inappropriate and perhaps not demonstrative of the proper decorum befitting analysis regulatory agency.

Rather, it seems that the purpose of inviting guest speakers is to further promote the viewpoint championed in the item about to be adopted. And the more controversial the item, the more likely we are to receive such delivering presentations. But , the lengthy Bureau delivering presentations and approving statements already accomplish that goal. There is no need to add to the particular chorus or to try to further refute or dilute dissenting opinions.

If the Commission is interested in hearing from outside parties personally, there are better ways to do it. Commission staff often holds workshops and roundtables for the very purpose of welcoming input from a variety of stakeholders. These are generally well attended, including at times by the Chairman and Commissioners, and the account is also entered into the record from the proceeding where it can have a meaningful impact on Commission deliberations.

Alternatively, if the Commissioners themselves are interested in convening outside parties, an option – albeit one that would need significant thought – would be for the Commission to designate certain meetings for taking account (akin to hearings) and other meetings for considering items (true agenda meetings). To be clear, both could happen in the same month. I’m most certainly not suggesting that the Commission reduce its output or delay important products. But at meetings designated to get testimony, the Commissioners could listen to from a variety of perspectives, not just a few favored representatives. And Commissioners could question witnesses to hone in on key issues and information.

Nonetheless, if the Commission persists in inviting witnesses to agenda meetings, it needs to make various changes:

First, the particular Chairman’s office should provide progress notice. Commissioners typically aren’t told about invitees until a day or two (or even an hour or two) just before a meeting. Instead, Commissioners should be educated of any guest speakers no later than two weeks in advance of the particular meeting. That shouldn’t be a heavy lift. In order to arrange for guest speakers, particularly out-of-town invitees, staff must be coordinating with potential guests nicely in advance. So they should be able to notify Commissioners that invitations have been extended.

Second, the viewpoint of these Commissioners in the minority on a specific issue, if any, should be offered the opportunity to help choose the speakers or be allowed to select their own. At present, Commissioners have no input into the selection procedure. If the Commission is going to hear a particular viewpoint repeated multiple times, it would be informative to have someone share a different viewpoint. At Congressional hearings, it is common for that minority to select at least one witness, and sometimes more. Here, we are not really provided that basic protocol.

Finally, speakers should be required to provide their testimony to all Commissioner offices no later than 48 hours in advance of the meeting. Currently, Commissioners do not receive the text of the comments at all. Commissioners should have adequate time for you to review testimony and potentially get ready questions. While the intent behind having guest speakers is not to turn the particular Open Meetings into public proceedings, my view is that anyone sitting down at the presentation table should be ready and willing to answer questions. Even if Commissioners do not plan to ask questions, it might still be helpful to receive the testimony ahead of time so that we all know what to expect. Additionally , if the Commission invites others to join staff at the table, then they should expect to be questioned too, even if they are not delivering prepared remarks.

Questioning the Staff Experts

In general, the particular Commission staff are dedicated community servants committed to producing the best substantive outcomes on the policy issues just before us. They are also the most knowledgeable about the content of an item being considered in a Open Meeting. To the extent that my colleagues or I have queries regarding the direction taken, specifics from the proposal, the consequences of adopting any item, the process or anything else, we should be free to ask the staff at the table. But often times my questions create from hearing the staff demonstration of an item. In those situations, I have been hesitant to ask a relevant question because I haven’t offered it to staff in advance.

I suggest that we can enhance the discourse and relevance of an Open Meeting by allowing unscripted queries and answers. Accordingly, I function notice that I no longer plan to provide questions to staff in advance of an Open Meeting. I promise that I have zero intention of blindsiding or embarrassing staff by asking questions. There should be no gotcha moments. In fact , We only seek to advance further knowledge of the issue and examine arguments that aren’t readily apparent.

Thankfully, the idea of an open questioning procedure is far from revolutionary. Not only has got the Commission utilized this style during the past, but on Capitol Hill during Committee markups, staff sits on the counsel’s table prepared to answer any question from a Congressmen or Senator. I do not doubt for a minute that Commission staff couldn’t fulfil the same function at our Open Meetings and do an equally good – or better – job answering any question posed.

I trust that the Process Review Task Force can examine and reform the current witness invites and staff questioning procedures during Open Meetings along with the many other concrete suggestions I’ve already put forward to improve FCC procedures.


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