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Public Knowledge today said the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to require commissioners and staff negotiating for new employment to make those intentions public.
In a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, PK President Gigi B. Sohn noted that PK's FCC Reform report last year noted the lack of transparency in post-FCC employment. The letter also noted that officials recusing themselves from dockets or issues because of employment negotiations had in the past been required to file a publicly available letter with the recusal information. That requirement has lapsed, and Public Knowledge said Genachowski should "immediately reinstitute this requirement."
The text of the letter follows:
May 19, 2011
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th St. SW
Washington, DC 20554
Re: Disclosure Requirements for FCC Staff Recusals
Dear Chairman Genachowski:
Public Knowledge urges you to reinstitute a traditional disclosure practice in the hope of improving the transparency of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with regard to the careers of commissioners and staff.
As you are no doubt aware, there has been a great deal of public discussion surrounding the timing of the departure of Commissioner Meredith Baker. Although all available evidence suggests that she and her staff are adhering to current recusal procedures, those procedures have at least one easily corrected deficiency. No one in the public, and probably few at the Commission, knew that she had talked with Comcast about possible future employment until she announced her departure.
In its March 5, 2010 report, "An FCC For the Internet Age: Recommendations for Reforming the Federal Communications Commission," Public Knowledge noted:
"A related problem is the lack of transparency with regard to staff recusals. Currently, an FCC staffer seeking employment with an interested party is under no obligation to submit a written notification that she is recusing herself from pending matters affecting that party. Staff should not only be required to provide a written notice, the notice should be posted prominently on the FCC’s website."
Some years ago, there was a requirement that anyone negotiating employment with an organization doing business with the Commission was not only required to recuse him or herself, but to file a letter, available for public viewing, with the recusal information.
We suggest that you immediately reinstitute this requirement, which would cover all commissioners and staff at the earliest possible stage of serious employment negotiations. As we also noted in the report, "When agency staff can move easily in and out of careers with companies the agency regulates and the law firms that represent them, the problem of agency capture is exacerbated."
Gigi B. Sohn
cc. Austin Schlick, General Counsel
 Public Knowledge filed the report with the Commission on May 10, 2010 as part of Amendment of the Commission’s Ex Parte Rules and Other Procedural Rules, GN Docket No. 10-43, available at http://fjallfoss.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=7020454474.