July 01, 2019

Senator Warren, Rep. Jayapal Investigate Reports that FCC Advisory Council is Dominated by Industry Insiders

A recent investigation by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) highlighted regulatory capture at the FCC

Text of the letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) sent a letter to Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), on June 27, 2019, requesting more information about reports that the FCC's Communications Security, Reliability, and Interoperability Council (CSRIC) may be inappropriately dominated by industry insiders.

CSRIC is an advisory panel, tasked with "provid[ing] recommendations to the FCC regarding ways the FCC can strive for security, reliability, and interoperability of communications systems."

recent investigation by the nonpartisan independent watchdog group, Project On Government Oversight (POGO), found that "the panel ... is dominated by industry influences and falling short of legal requirements." In fact, "more than half of its members represented private sector interests, either as a direct employee of a for-profit company or via affiliation with an industry trade group."

The industry-slanted panel has recommended industry-friendly policies that are bad for consumers and not in the public interest. For example, CSRIC often declines to recommend that the FCC issue mandatory requirements, and instead suggests the FCC issue voluntary recommendations even in cases that involve significant security concerns. The POGO investigation concluded that instead of protecting consumers, the Council is often a "barrier to strengthening the security of America's communications."

"Having the FCC's policy-making process rely on input from individuals employed by, or affiliated with, the corporations that it is tasked with overseeing is the very definition of regulatory capture. The FCC should be working on behalf of American consumers, not giant telecommunications companies," wrote the lawmakers.

Beyond the obvious conflicts of interest and risks to consumers created by this arrangement, the current makeup of the council may not be consistent with the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires that the membership of federal agency advisory committees must "be fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented and the functions to be performed."

In order to better understand the extent to which the CSRIC may be corrupted by undue corporate influence, as well as its role in FCC policy-making, Senator Warren requested answers to her questions no later than July 12, 2019.

In August 2018, Senator Warren unveiled the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act, a comprehensive bill that, among other ambitious measures, would increase transparency of federal advisory committees (such as CSRIC), requiring them to disclose publicly their members, meeting agendas, and more. Representative Pramila Jayapal is a lead co-sponsor of this bill in the House.