Committee: FCCs Martin Has Created Culture of Fear

What do former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and current FCC Chairman Kevin Martin have in common? Well, today the answer is: Bush buddies under fire for mismanagement, unethical practices and improper decision-making.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday issued a new report damning Martin’s oversight of the FCC. The committee helps govern the communications industry.

During his four years as chairman, the Democratic-controlled committee found, Martin “manipulated, withheld or suppressed data, reports, and information.” Commission matters also have not been handled in a transparent manner, the report stated, and Martin’s “heavy-handed, opaque, and non-collegial management style has created distrust, suspicion, and turmoil among the five current commissioners.”

And all of that is only from page two of the 110-page document.

The report comes after nearly 12 months of investigation on the part of the House committee. Staff interviewed dozens of current and former FCC employees, as well as telecom industry insiders, and culled through several hundred thousand documents before reaching their conclusions. Normally, staff said, they’d recommend holding a hearing to gather more testimony and further examine the issues.

“Due to the climate of fear that currently pervades the FCC, however, we found that key witnesses were unwilling to testify or even to have their names become known,” the report read.

Committee chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., said the findings are cause for concern; they suggest that “in recent years, the FCC has operated in a dysfunctional manner and commission business has suffered as a result,” Dingell said in a prepared statement.

“It is my hope that the new FCC chairman will find this report instructive and that it will prove useful in helping the commission avoid making the same mistakes.”

An FCC spokesman told Bloomberg the committee did not find Martin had broken any rules, laws or procedures. But that’s just the sort of statement one would expect from an agency operating under a highly disliked leader. It will be interesting to see if any Congressional action stems from the committee’s findings. Gonzales resigned as Attorney General after coming under fire for dismissing federal attorneys who weren’t considered “loyal Bushies.” Martin isn’t likely to resign until Jan. 20, the day President-elect Barack Obama takes office, and it’s unclear whether he might face Congressional interrogation over his alleged actions and improprieties.

For their part, cable executives probably are dancing with joy over the committee’s findings. Martin has been a staunch foe of the cable industry for reasons that never have been entirely clear, and he’s accused of manipulating cable data to coerce his fellow commissioners into supporting heavier regulation of that sector. The CLEC community also is likely to be pleased by the report; Martin has approved, without a seeming second thought, major telecom mergers that threaten competition.

Check back later this week for a detailed news analysis of the report, “Deception and Distrust: The Federal Communications Commission Under Chairman Kevin J. Martin,” from xchange reporter Kelly Teal.

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