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The FCC and First Year of Open Government

Posted December 7th, 2010 by Steven VanRoekel - Managing Director, Federal Communications Commission

In the modern federal landscape, the FCC finds itself increasingly at the intersection of technology, law, and citizen participation. It’s a challenging place to be -- these arenas change quickly, and move in ways that advancements in one ripple out and can change the others. But the opportunity to make progress on these fronts has never been greater.

Modernizing the rulemaking process -- keeping up with these changes to best serve the American public -- was the focus of an event hosted by the Brookings Institute last week. As an invited member of the Digitization – Past, Present, and Short-Term Future panel , I spoke about two key benefits that new technology offers to the rulemaking process.

First, erulemaking can make government work smarter. Moving from a largely paper-based system -- the norm very recently -- to a digital system has led to a rulemaking process that’s accessible, searchable and less weighed down by troves of paperwork.

Second, moving rulemaking online has allowed the FCC to open a process that was closed for too long. Traditionally, access to rulemaking required access to the expert legal mechanisms typically out of the reach of most citizens, yet the rules we are creating are created for all and often impact people who don’t have access to legal support. We’ve made strides on this front - You may be familiar with our online comment crowdsourcing platforms, the ability to integrate blog comments into the public record, and our other moves to make the FCC process as open as possible – there’s more to come.

Something most people don’t know: the FCC is also developing ways to help citizens that lack access to the Internet participate in rulemakings remotely via voicemail, powered by increasingly accurate speech-to-text technologies. It’s another way that the spirit of open government is pushing us to tinker with the process, open up closed structures, and empower citizen experts to meaningfully engage with rulemaking.

With the help of open technologies, agencies like the FCC increasingly find themselves as repositories of valuable insight generated by citizen experts. New technology makes that information available as data outputs that are easily shared, syndicated, and mashed-up against other data sets. As part of our team’s effort to reimagine a new FCC.gov, we’re revamping the Electronic Comment Filing System that allows for bulk download, RSS subscription to particular rulemakings, and infusing our own processes more with the web services model that’s ubiquitous in the modern Internet.

An open and participatory FCC is in line with the spirit of President Obama’s Open Government Directive -- passed one year ago today -- that is creating a more open, transparent, and participatory government.

On this anniversary, we think it is worth looking back and compiling the agency’s open government accomplishments. Take a look, then add your voice in the comments and help us continue improving the FCC’s rulemaking process.

Posted in Reform - Redesign FCC Staff Open Government Spectrum Dashboard Reform - Rules And Processes Reform - Data Office Of Managing Director Data Developer Api Accessibility

FCC Reform of Procedures

Posted April 14th, 2010 by Austin Schlick - General Counsel

I’m pleased to report that the FCC has begun two formal proceedings on ways to reform its procedures. 

The first Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposes rule changes to make the Commission’s decision-making processes more open, transparent, fair, and effective.  The major proposals in the Ex Parte NPRM include:

  • Requiring the public filing of a summary of every oral ex parte presentation
  • Requiring the filing of a notice that summarizes all data and arguments presented and allowing cross-references to earlier filings where appropriate 
  • Establishing a preference for electronic filing of all notices of ex parte presentations 
  • Requiring faster electronic filing (within four hours) of notices of permitted ex parte presentations made during the “Sunshine Period,” which typically begins a week before a public Commission Meeting, for those items on the Meeting agenda
  • Starting the Sunshine Period prohibition on ex parte presentations at midnight after a Sunshine notice has issued to enhance predictability.

The Commission is asking for public comment on all these proposals.  In addition, the Commission is seeking comment on other topics, such as revisiting our current exceptions to the Sunshine Period prohibition on ex parte presentations, requiring disclosure of ownership or other information about organizations making filings at the Commission, sanctions and enforcement for violations of the ex parte rules, and how the ex parte rules should apply in the context of new media, such as this blog.

Second, the Commission adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that proposes some changes to our procedural and organizational rules.  The major proposals in this Procedures NPRM include:

  • Expanding the use of docketed proceedings and maximizing electronic filing through the Commission’s improved Electronic Comment Filing System
  • Delegating authority to the staff to serve parties to FCC proceedings electronically
  • Delegating authority to bureau and office chiefs to dismiss or deny defective or repetitious reconsideration petitions that do not warrant consideration by the full Commission
  • Making our rules clear that when an FCC rule or order requires action by the Commission on a weekend or holiday, the action must be taken by the next business day
  • Adopting a default effective date for new rules when the FCC does not specify an effective date in the relevant rulemaking orders.

We look forward to receiving public input on all these proposals.  Because the Commission has begun formal proceedings on these matters, we are closing this blog to further public comment and are instead requesting that comments be filed directly in the Commission’s formal record.  Brief comments on the Ex Parte NPRM can be filed at ECFS Express, and brief comments on the Procedures NPRM can be filed here.  Longer comments, including those with attachments, can be filed at ECFS and should refer to GC Docket No. 10-43 (Ex Parte NPRM) or GC Docket No. 10-44 (Procedures NPRM).  Comments are due on May 10, and reply comments are due on June 8.

Thank you for your interest in reforming the FCC.  Please let us know what you think of these proposals, and suggest some of your own.  We look forward to having you participate.

Posted in Office of General Counsel Reform - Rules And Processes
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