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FCC LEGISLATIVE PROPOSALS GO NOWHERE

WASHINGTON-With time left for the 105th Congress quickly dwindling away, the Federal Communications Commission has not seen any action on any of its suggested legislative items.

Indeed, the FCC’s Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs (OLI) has not even asked for any legislation since FCC Chairman William Kennard was sworn in late last fall. This, despite public protests from Kennard that the FCC could do its job better, especially with defaulting personal communications service licensees, if Congress would help.

The FCC did send a legislative package containing 20 proposals to Congress in May 1997. These proposals, developed by former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt, quickly went nowhere once Hundt announced he was leaving the FCC. Two other proposals sent up in September have met a similar fate.

Kennard has attempted to nudge Congress to act on the FCC proposals as he has appeared before FCC reauthorization hearings held by both the House and Senate subcommittees with jurisdiction over the FCC.

The FCC, which has been criticized by members of these panels for being too large, “cannot create a leaner [FCC] by ourselves. We need Congress to give us the full range of tools necessary to reshape the [FCC] and its staff,” Kennard told the Senate communications subcommittee earlier this month.

Nudging and other public statements have not been enough to get any FCC-related legislation moving on Capitol Hill including Kennard’s sincere desire for bankruptcy protection legislation. The FCC’s proposal calls for amending the Communications Act. This avenue, rather than amending the bankruptcy code, was taken to keep the congressional jurisdiction within the commerce committees of both houses.

This plan of attack could have missed a key opportunity when the House passed bankruptcy reform legislation earlier this month. The House bankruptcy bill is before the Senate and the FCC is consulting with congressional staff to see if an amendment to the bankruptcy reform legislation is a viable option, said Mark Rubin from OLI.

The FCC believes the 105th Congress is not interested in passing legislation but rather likes its job of continual oversight. Indeed, during the Senate reauthorization hearing, the focus was on the embattled universal service fund -especially the schools and libraries portion-rather than on the agency as a whole.

Reauthorization is a congressional procedure where Congress gives an agency priorities and approves of its very existence. The reauthorization process gives members of Congress and the Senate not involved in appropriations an opportunity to set priorities and give their views on congressional intent. Without authorization, agencies are forced to go to congressional appropriators with their hat in their hand and ask for money for each and every program.

The FCC has not been reauthorized since the fall of 1992.

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