Monday, March 26, 2012

Opaque Transparency at the FCC

During a recent Congressional hearing, it was noted that - according to publicly available information on the official FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) website ( - the FCC had denied 48% of recent FOIA requests.  In comparison, both the CIA and National Security Agency denied less than 1% of requests, and the average for the rest of the government was a 7.3% denial rate.
  Unsurprisingly, an FCC spokesman claimed that "the FCC is a government leader in transparency, including under the Freedom of Information Act."  Interestingly, the spokesman did not indicate in which direction the FCC was leading.  The spokesman added that only 3% of "complete, with fees paid" FOIA requests were denied.
  Here's a teaching moment for journalists - when official sources give you wildly different numbers, look carefully at how those results are defined.  The FCC spokesman limited his count to "complete" requests whose fees were fully paid.  As for the information, they counted all requests - including those rejected as incomplete, having errors, unable to pay fees and charges, or what seemed to be the FCC's favorite excuse, where the information requested was "not reasonably described," a nebulous standard at the best of times.  In 2010, the FCC rejected over 16% of all FOIA requests as seeking records that were "not reasonably described."
  The FCC spokesman also noted that the FCC had gotten an A from one oversight committee for it's "FOIA record-keeping;" not it's responsiveness or its transparency, but it's records. When asked about the FCC's response to FOIA and Congressional inquiries, one Senator replied, "The FCC gets an ‘F’ for its handling of requests from 99.6 percent of members of Congress."  And it's that wider perception that is keeping the Senate from acting on pending nominations to the Commission.

Sources - FOIA data suggests FCC more secretive than CIAThe Daily Caller
Genachowski to Hill: Repacking will leave room for Mobile DTV, Broadcasting & Cable

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