Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), head of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, has told FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski that his responses on the FCC's process for adopting new network neutrality rules were incomplete, ignored many of the congressman's questions, and that the chairman needs to explain numerous White House visits between January 2009 and November 2010, and do so by April 6.
Issa cited numerous meetings between Genachowski, his staffers, and the White House, pointing to 81 visits by Genachaowski and 60 by his chief of staff (Genachowski is a former Harvard law classmate and friend of the President). "The large volume and timing of these meetings gives the appearance that they are more than coincidental," Issa wrote Thursday to Genachowski according to a copy of the letter obtained by B&C.
Issa was responding to Genachowski's Feb. 23 letter explaining to Issa that FCC attorneys were not aware of any violations of ex parte rules concerning conversations FCC officials may or may not have had with the administration about its network neutrality rulemaking.
Genachowski had also told Issa that any conversations before Oct. 22, 2009, would not have been subject to disclosure rules in any event.
But Issa is now looking for explanations on any conversations after that.
"We worked with both Congress and the executive branch as we carried out Congress's mandate to create a National Broadband Plan that would improve our communication networks and advance public safety, education, health care and energy efficiency," said an FCC spokesperson.
Issa had written twice asking about the issue, first on Nov. 13 and again on Dec. 29, citing reports that "Obama
administration officials had knowledge of and potentially contributed to crafting of these proposed regulations [now approved regulations]."In his earlier letters, Issa also pointed to the fact that on Sept. 21, 2009, both the chairman and the President had separately, and almost simultaneously, announced the plan to propose net neutrality regs. That, he said, would be a violation of ex parte rules, which he said would require that coordination to be publicly disclosed, which it was not. He also called it a "serious breech of the independent proceedings of the FCC."
The chairman countered that the Communications Act allows the chairman to represent the commission in meetings with other government officials and agencies. He also said that the relevant ex parte procedural disclosure rules generally don't apply until the agency releases a notice of proposed rulemaking. "In this instance," he said, "consistent with general agency practice, prior to the release of the Open Internet NPRM on Oct. 22,2009 the open Internet matter was an "exempt proceeding" under the ex parte rules. Thus, for example, no disclosure requirements applied in September 2009."
In Thursday's letter, Issa requested lots more information, including records of all meetings between FCC
staffers/consultants and White House staff or consultants, all documents including e-mails, among them, and all the information requested in previous letters that Issa said has not yet been provided.
"The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is the principal oversight committee of the House of Representatives and may at 'any time' investigate 'any matter' as set forth in House Rule X," the letter read. "We request that you provide the requested documents and information relevant to these inquiries as soon as possible, but no later than 5 p.m. on April 6."