Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) has introduced a bill to allow more than two Federal Communications Commissioners to meet privately, so long as there is at least one commissioner from each party in the room and the meeting's content is disclosed to the public.
A number of commissioners have argued for letting commissioners get together to discuss issues, an issue on which former Republican chairman Kevin Martin and current Democratic commissioner Michael Copps agreed.
Currently, sunshine rules prevent more than two commissioners meeting in person outside of public meetings. That is because all meetings of federal agencies must be open if there is a quorum present, and since the FCC has five members, three represents a quorum.
The restriction has led to e-mail or staff-emissary exchanges or a series of one-on-one meetings.
H.R. 4167, the Federal Communications Commission Collaboration Act, would expire after five years, so it would have to be reauthorized if Congress concluded it had been beneficial.
Back when Martin ran the commission, Stupak vetted FCC processes as chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation. That commission was notable for long delays in meeting start-times as commissioners communicated changes and ferried questions about controversial items via staffers or written communications.
A spokesman for FCC chairman Julius Genachowski was unavailable for comment.
Copps seemed nearly giddy over the prospect: "I am thrilled by Congressman Bart Stupak's introduction of the Federal Communications Commission Collaboration Act. If there was only one action we could take to reform the FCC, this would be my choice."
Seconding that was veteran communications policy consultant Jerry Udwin. "Congressman Stupak's bill couldn't have come at a better time," he said. "The current FCC commissioners face a huge load of tremendously important, complicated and often interrelated issues. Enactment of H.R. 4167 would lighten that load by enabling the commissioners to meet more often and informally. They could exchange ideas directly and move forward on the issues more efficiently, swiftly and collegially. And, the bill carefully protects transparency at the Commission. The sooner it can be enacted the better--to help get the Commission's work done for all of the interested parties and, most importantly, for the public."