Outfitting a new commission
FCC commissioner James Quello, a man of stature in an agency that too often breeds political footnotes, has announced that he will stand down this year. A long and mainly arduous career in public serv-ice comes to an end. And with it will come a vacancy on the commission that will likely not be the last one experienced this year.
You see, my readers, there is a reason why many of you do not know the identity of all the commissioners. If you don’t believe me, try to name all five. I would be willing to wager that fewer than 10% of you could. The reason you couldn’t is that the agency is run, by and large, by one man_Chairman Reed Hundt. He has only one vote out of five in every commission decision, but his agenda is the touchstone of this administration and defines the actions of his colleagues. Well, except James Quello, who had the brains and the brass . . . uh . . . accouterments, to take Hundt to task privately and publicly. Bravo! An independent thinker and actor is a rare commodity on the commission, and Quello will be missed.
But then the process of gaining a seat on the commission has not been one that is tailored to the nominating of a Quello. Most commissioners hold their seats for one term, add them to their resumes and move on to the jobs they really want. There simply isn’t time to teach someone the myriad of details, facts, legal history, market realities and processes that should be applied to every commission decision. Antitrust lawyers and labor lawyers and people, with scarcely a year of working on some congressional committee or in some congressman’s office, simply are unprepared for the enormity of the job.
So, most of them wear the mantle of public responsibility in an uncomfortable fashion because it is an uneasy fit. Their lack of knowledge is disguised behind veils of feigned confidence. Their actions are styled in the fashion of the day and newest creeds, without marked individuality. They lack color and style and the boldness that is earned by experience. They lack the realization that for all of the light shone on their jobs, commissioners carry a heavy wrap called the public interest down the runway with them. That wrap should not be fumed into a cloak of arrogance.
As Congress and the administration set about the task of outfitting the American public with a new crop of commissioners, perhaps a few fashion tips are in order. With a little help, maybe I can help future fledgling bureaucrats in their daily routine of dressing for work, so that we are not again surrounded by persons clothed in the factory seconds from congressional cloak rooms. Here are a few ideas that may help. A hat that is just the right size. No big heads, swelled with the idea of who they are or who they might become after they land that sweetheart job following a limited stay at the commission. And only one hat, to show that they have only one job. Commissioners should stop acting like they are trying to run the Securities and Exchange, the U.S. Treasury and the Department of Commerce. Their primary constituency is the guy who plugs a quarter in a pay phone or the cop on the beat, not the investing public.
A simple suit from Loehmann’s or J.C. Penney. None of these silk jobs that antitrust lawyers and former ABC lawyers wear to show they’re someone. When they got the job, they got all of the importance one needs by being entrusted with the welfare of the public. That enormous responsibility alone should suffice as their indicia of power and the duty that goes with it. It should not be buried under Armani and Ungaro but should remain as simple and domestic as Sears.
An undershirt of sturdy cotton. The duty of protecting the nation’s airwaves is sometimes dirty work requiring the sweat of one’s brow to assure that the bastion of fairness and law is protected against the ravages of special interests and telecommunications lobbyists. A commissioner should be prepared to strip off jacket, tie and shirt to take up the stanchion in defense of the public interest.
A tight belt with only one notch. A person’s appetite for power should be tempered by the responsibility of wielding that power. No agency in the federal government appears to be caught more often biting off more than it can chew. A commissioner should be disciplined to restrict his or her diet to those matters that are important to the public and not merely those matters that appear grand and, in today’s overused parlance, global. The commission’s efforts in assuring the efficient delivery of services from firefighters are more important to the American public than all the mega-international deals with which the FCC dallies and tarries.
Sturdy boots for digging and toes for kicking. Commissioners should be ready to dig in their heels against people who would push too far, too fast for the sole purpose of assuring that their product or service makes it to market, and damn the consequences. Some have forgotten the time when business was done by mail_and done quite well. Although few of us wish to ignore the progress of wireless data transfer, digital compression, the advent of the fax machine and the many other inventions that assist in the nation’s efficiency, the commissioners should not ignore the obvious fact that there exists no urgency to bring additional services to the market. No crisis exists that demands immediate introduction of each new gadget except the private interests of the companies that invent them. And when those companies come to the commissioners to request that they set aside the public interest in assisting these opportunists, the other end of the commissioner’s boot should be employed.
Warm, woolly socks. Too often we have seen commissioners who get cold feet. They are bullied by big business, pushed around by overbearing chairmen and knocked about by congressional agendas that are designed to reward campaign contributors. The results are unfortunate and avoidable. There are five commissioners with five votes, yet the agency most often votes as one. Why? Apologists will tell you that it is the nature of political compromise. My observations have often shown that it is more often capitulation by the politically weak-willed.
Small pockets that only hold what is needed. The voracious appetite of the auction-crazed commission has been feeding too well on the profitability of our industry. Even the most well-financed ventures, like PCS operations, have had to forego any dreams of rapidly moving from the red. The cost of obtaining the spectrum is so high that consumers will bear the price of the commission’s taxation system for years before the operator can hope to deliver low-cost efficiencies. Perhaps if the commissioners’ pockets were not cut so deep by a desperate Congress and administration, they would sometimes resist the act of filling them from every source.
A scarf of bright color that demonstrates each individual’s personal commitment and perspective. Something that would shock the senses of the inventors of Garanimals is needed. Nothing too flamboyant and arrogant, nor foppish and weak. But something that indicates the boldness of action that is necessary for one to lead.
And speaking of boldness, we might consider a healthy codpiece. Quello’s taking his with him.