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Broadcasting & Cable

House Launches FCC Investigation; Warns Against Destroying Documents

John Eggerton

As promised, the House Energy & Commerce Committee launched a formal investigation into the Federal Communications Commission's "regulatory procedures and practices."

The committee was following up on a Dec. 3 letter asking the chairman about procedural criticisms.

Committee leaders advised Martin Tuesday that they expect FCC staffers to cooperate and ordered the agency to start preserving all documents and e-mails, adding for emphasis that no historical records "shall be destroyed, modified, altered, deleted, removed, relocated, or otherwise negligently or intentionally handled so as to make them inaccessible to the committee."

The investigation followed complaints externally and internally about how items were brought to a vote, information that was leaking to some lobbyists and not to others and complaints about Martin's resolve to vote on modifying the ban on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership -- which passed Dec. 18 -- despite attempts to stop or delay the vote by members of FCC oversight committees in both Houses.

House Energy & Commerce leaders from both parties sent Martin a letter Tuesday -- he was in Las Vegas speaking at the 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show -- letting him know that the investigation was underway and asking for his full cooperation in their effort to determine whether the agency's business was being conducted in a "fair, open and efficient" manner.

The committee plans to ask for lots of documents, and its investigators will interview FCC employees and witnesses, as well as hold hearings. But to put a point on it, the congressman asked Martin to immediately inform all FCC employees of their right to communicate with the committee and the FCC's inability to "deny or interfere" with those rights.

FCC spokesman Clyde Ensslin pointed out Tuesday that in his response to the Dec. 3 letter, chairman Kevin Martin described the FCC's document-retention policies, which are to preserve its work product.

© 2008 Broadcasting & Cable

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