I’m sorry. I was wrong.
The other day I was up at the FCC’s office in Gettysburg. If you’ve never been there, you’re missing one of the most interesting places that the FCC has to offer for a public tour. Well, they don’t exactly give tours, but if you’re willing to wear one of those really dorky badges that they give out (after doing a background check to see if your friends have given you a nickname like “Pipebomb” or “The Jackal”), you can kinda roam around and see people working.
That’s right. Contrary to public opinion, there are people who work at the FCC. Take Terry Fishel, for example (or take him to lunch, if you don’t mind being tailed by the Federal Employee Conduct Police). Terry’s office is decorated in Late American Pile, and we’re not talking carpeting here. His shelves have stacks of paper. His floor has stacks of applications. His chairs have stacks of petitions. Even his piles have piles that all the ointment in the world can’t cure.
Can I get a witness! Yes. I’m here to tell you that Terry and a lot of people like him are actually trying to push it all down the “elementary” canal that we in the legal biz call due process. Add to that W Riley Hollingsworth (the “W” is silent), Mike Regiec, Elaine McKnight, Joyce Nary and scores of other people who don’t have the time to go to luncheons, make speeches, write white papers, adopt obscure policy, or figure out the telecommunications-industrial-fiscal-monetary-global policy for the western hemisphere and Vineland, NJ. They hardly have time to do their jobs.
But that’s not the most amazing thing about these people. They have a greater capacity than the ability to actually begin and end a task. They also have the ability (and I know that I’m jeopardizing each named person’s career) to say, “I’m sorry. I was wrong.” Amazing!
In my most convincing Andy Rooney impression, let me ask you, “Did ya’ ever notice that the Commission, with a capital ‘C,’ doesn’t have the capacity to say, ‘I’m sorry. We were wrong?'” In fact, did you notice that these words cannot be uttered by anyone with the job of Division Chief or higher? Why is that?
I’m starting to wonder if there’s someone over at the Office of Personnel Management that’s keeping score_ someone named Herman Lipschitz who does nothing all day but keep track of how many times an agency has admitted that it just blew it, choked, got thrown a curve, misread the law, or really didn’t intend to regulate an entire segment of the economy into the abyss. Herman counts each time, and if you go over 1.5 times, you are given the same severance package as Dick Morris.
The most recent example of this management malady was an Order produced by the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau that sought to restrict eligibility to apply for a waiver of the most recent 800MHz Report and Order to ESMR operators only. All of the industrial, land transportation and local SMR operators could go pound sand.
As soon as the Order hit the street, some of the adversely affected companies, like Chadmoore and Spectrum Resources and others said (and I quote), “Hey! That ain’t right.” Well, with an overwhelming legal argument like that, their lawyers jumped in and filed a petition that pointed out to the WTB that it didn’t have the authority to change the Commission’s Report and Order, which had no such language in its text. The amazing thing about the objection to the petition is that there were actually three law firms (with the combined wealth roughly equivalent to the GNP of Sweden) with enough gumption to complain.
Now, the Bureau knows that it cannot issue an Order that is contrary to the specific language in a Commission Order. And, I hope, the Commission knows that the Bureau can’t do that either. So, everyone knows that the Bureau messed up. I even explained it to the neighbor’s terrier, and he agreed while gnawing on my rhododendron.
Now, when I mess up, I tell the person affected by my mistake. “I’m sorry. I was wrong.” I also tell this to my wife when I mistakenly rent the movie “Devil Blasters from Outer Space” for romantic viewing on our anniversary. I do not issue a “Clarification.”
But then I’m not Michele Farquhar with a title that begins with the word “Chief.” Ms. Farquhar chose instead to issue a public notice that claimed to be clarifying the earlier Order. In her clarification, she explained that the earlier Order should not be interpreted to mean that only ESMR operators can get a waiver. Said in another way, she said that true north should be read as 1808 from true north, or sort of a “non-compass mentis.” What she didn’t say was, “I’m sorry. I was wrong.”
In trying to finesse the mess, she actually made things worse. You see, as pointed out in additional comments, her public notice cannot legally change the content of an Order. Therefore, she put a leaky bandage on a wound to the Bureau’s integrity. It didn’t help. It only sought to cover up the problem.
The Order is still there. The public notice is legally insignificant. The petition filed by the lawyers is still on file, and they aren’t withdrawing it yet. Now the later comments have pointed out that the public isn’t fooled by this little charade.
For me, Chief Farquhar would have attained hero status if she had simply said “Whoops.” I would also invite those people who dreamed up the 800MHz Consensus, auctioning channels used for BETRS so that huge paging companies could get huger, the Goodman-Chan decision, HDTV give-aways, AM stereo rules, radiodetermination spectrum allocations, the freezes, the PCS entrepreneur block auction rules, ACSB as anything more than a novelty, refarming, gangsta rap, call waiting and smelly perfume ads to join in a chorus of “I’m sorry. I was wrong.”
Every month I write this column and go out on a limb. I make predictions. I give opinions. I point out that some things just don’t seem right to me. Then I let the chips fall where the cattle left them.
On occasion, some of you write to tell me that I might be mistaken. I read the mail that is promptly forwarded to my office after the magazine’s staff has steamed it open and used it to mock me. When I’ve been wrong, I’ve admitted it, despite this public forum that is read by a whole lot more people than an Order written by Ms. Farquhar. In sum, I take my lumps.
I’ve invited people to write opposing views, debate me, or simply to call me on the phone or tell me that I’m a few sandwiches short of a picnic. It’s okay. That’s what being in the public eye is all about. But in Washington, that rarely happens. Instead, people whisper behind your back and oppose you by innuendo or smear.
If, by the time this is published, Ms. Farquhar does the honorable thing, then perhaps I’ve misjudged her. If so, I’m sorry. I was wrong.