Father knows cash
The Washington Post business section is filled with interesting tidbits about local people who have climbed from parent-purchased MBA programs into positions that require multimodifying titles, like “Susan Vernal has been named Mid-States Regional Director of Sales and Product Identification Marketing for Schmengy Corp. of Chantilly, VA.” My normal response is: Who cares?
OK, Susan cares. Susan had to play the game and put her priorities in an order that didn’t always reflect those values we were taught by Donna Reed, Ward Cleaver, Marcus Welby and any character played by Florence Henderson. So life isn’t a ’50s family show. We know that and yet, we hope.
Our expectations of how people should conduct themselves in their professional lives and the priorities that they should exhibit is altered if the people are government employees. Something about knowing that our taxes are paying their salaries raises our expectations.
We also know that government employees are not supposed to have a vested interest in the outcome of their decisions. There’s that whole “impartiality” thing and that “no appearance of impropriety” idea that further piques our examination of officials’ behavior. In fact, the feds have even codified the whole concept under Title 5 of the U.S. Code, which admonishes federal employees to be honest, polite and above reproach.
But then there are those influences that we know sometimes interfere with the noble goals articulated within the statutes. There’s politics. The political agenda of the party in power, reflected in the decisions and operations of a federal agency, can dramatically alter the outcome and flavor of officials’ decisions. Suddenly, the decisions are “pro” big business or “anti” regulation or whatever. The twists of logic, and the rewriting of facts that are used to justify this activity, are the stuff of legend.
Because people are people, even when they draw their pay from the federal government, these officials know when they have turned the facts into a logical pretzel and bent circumstances to fit a predetermined outcome. Although this contortion may assist them in their ambitions, there is an underlying defensiveness borne of embarrassment. They know they have lied or purposefully omitted material facts, and their consciences can hear their mothers saying, “Honesty is the best policy.”
The people who work at the FCC know when they are engaging in delay, arbitrariness, political myopia, abuse of discretion or simple kowtowing to lobbying pressure. They know when they are serving a purely internal agenda that bears no resemblance to law, fact, logic or the public interest. And they dislike being reminded of it.
Said another way, they don’t want a mirror held up that shows that the image they have cultivated bears no resemblance to the fresh-faced, bright-eyed child that used to win good citizenship awards in elementary school. That kid grew up, got smart and decided that there’s little percentage in good citizenship for anybody on the FCC payroll. Heck, even when they do the right thing, they often do it for the wrong reason.
But we tolerate these abuses of power because there is little we can do about it. I once brought a case before the U.S. Court of Appeals that was grounded in my complaint that members of the FCC staff had engaged in abuse of power. The court tossed it saying, in effect, “You’re a lawyer, and lawyers without a client can’t complain because they are not directly injured.” Great. The law states that the body of people with the greatest knowledge of abuse is not qualified to demand better.
A further reading of the law shows that there is little in the way of a remedy even for non-lawyers. You can’t get someone fired, fined or jailed for wrongdoing. That case would need to be brought by the U.S. Justice Department, and your chances of getting it interested aren’t good. There is something wrong with a law that provides unfettered power to people while placing them beyond personal responsibility. It’s especially onerous when those same people are charged with protecting the rights of individuals without regard to personal gain.
So, what happens to government officials who ignore the pleas of injured persons and turn a blind eye to evidence of agency chicanery? What happens when they rule in a manner that selectively benefits the few at the expense of the many, while all the time assisting in covering up the fleecing of the country so that a handful of politically connected, profiteering businesses can continue to engage in anti-competitive activity? I’m glad I asked.
This past week the Washington Post ran an article in its business section, announcing that former Chairman William Kennard has joined the board of Nextel Communications.
Irony? No. Just the final payment for a job well done.
Schwaninger, MRT’s regulatory consultant, is the principal in the law firm of Schwaninger & Associates, Washington, which is counsel to Small Business in Telecommunications. Schwaninger is also a member of the Radio Club of America.