Interim FCC Chief Takes Over 'Demoralized' Agency
Michael J. Copps has taken over the Federal Communications Commission, and according to many sources within the agency, he's got his work cut out for him as acting chairman as he tries to repair the spirit of the agency.
Copps was appointed acting chairman of the agency last week by President Obama until the administration formally announces their appointee. Julius Genachowski, Obama's tech advisor, friend, and Harvard Law School classmate, is expected to be named FCC head, according to sources close to the transition team and on Capitol Hill. Though Copps hasn't laid out specific goals as interim chairman, comments he made to staff has set the tone for cultural and procedural changes at the agency that will likely be resumed by Genachowski.
Genachowski will "inherit an agency largely demoralized that has lost a great deal of career experts," said Christopher Yoo, a professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania.
Coops made his remarks to all FCC staff today saying he would focus on the digital television transition and inside-agency efforts to try to improve communication and transparency at the agency.
"I'm troubled that our lines of communication, both internal and external, seem to be frayed," Copps said in remarks to staff, according to a statement released by the agency. "Our credibility suffers when that happens."
To achieve that, he encouraged more interaction between bureaus and offices. He said the chairman's office will hold weekly briefings with bureau and office chiefs with a representative from each commissioner's office in attendance. He called for more white papers on policy issues for the public to view.
Officials at the agency have complained privately that former chairman Kevin J. Martin didn't include them in his policy decisions or meetings with high-level economists, technologists and legal minds at the FCC. They said Martin was secretive and didn't tell them of his schedule and his plans, only to reveal sometimes policy notices at the last minute for vote at the FCC's open monthly meetings.
"The Commission has to be repaired in the eyes of the public," said Gigi Sohn, executive director of public interest group Public Knowledge. She has helped launch a site called www.fcc-reform.org, which solicits comments on how to reform the FCC by making it more transparent and more relevant to today's convergence of media, wireless technology, social networking, Internet search and other technologies.
But the biggest policy issue the agency will focus on in coming weeks will be the national conversion to all-ditigal broadcast television.
Copps said the agency will work to make the transition to all-digital broadcast over television on Feb. 17 as smooth as possible, however he reiterated that Congress should extend the date for the transition as millions of analog television viewers wait for coupons for digital converter boxes. The National Telecommunications & Information Administration said earlier this month that it had run out of money to fund the coupon program.
"It's no secret that I have always favored a more proactive and coordinated public-private partnership to fashion a seamless DTV transition," according to a release on Copps' remarks. "It's too late for that seamlesness now, but we have an obligation to do what we can in the three weeks remaining to minimize the dislocation and then, in the weeks following to repair the things that didn't work."
January 26, 2009; 5:20 PM ET
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