The Wayward Bureaucracy
The Wayward Bureaucracy: Government Assessment of FCC Organization and
Philip M. Napoli
Visiting Assistant Professor
College of Communication
640 Commonwealth Ave.
Boston, MA 02215
[log in to unmask]
This paper reviews and critiques the findings, recommendations, and
methodologies of 15 presidentially and congressionally sponsored analyses of FCC
organization and performance. These government-commissioned analyses
overwhelmingly support an organization-level framework of regulatory behavior,
in contrast to the academic literature, which has found support for a much
broader range of regulatory behavior theories. The recommendations of these
reports tend to advocate greater control of the FCC for the sponsoring
institution, indicating that these analyses serve primarily as tools in an
ongoing contest between the legislative and executive branches for greater
control of the FCC.
The Wayward Bureaucracy
The Wayward Bureaucracy: Government Assessment of FCC Organization and
The federal government has a long history of analyzing the behavior of the
Federal Communications Commission (Robinson, 1978, p. 354). According to Emery
(1971), "Probably no other agency of the Federal government has been the object
of as much vilification and prolonged investigation by Congress as has the FCC.
. . . [T]he FCC has been under Congressional investigation or the threat of one
virtually every year since it was established" (p. 395). During the first seven
years of the FCC's existence, the House and Senate introduced eleven different
resolutions to subject the Commission to formal investigation (Emery, 1971, p.
This intense interest in the FCC has produced a number of published studies.
These studies are of considerable importance to students of FCC behavior, given
that government-sponsored investigators are likely to have greater access to FCC
personnel and data than is the typical academic researcher. Therefore, they are
an important component of the regulatory behavior literature that has focused on
However, given that these studies are also a product of the political process,
they can provide insights into the relationship between various government
bodies and the FCC. While, as an independent regulatory agency, the FCC is
intended to function with a certain degree of independence from congressional or
presidential influence, "there is just no insulating the FCC from politics"
(Krasnow, Longley & Terry, 1982, p. 34). These government-commissioned analyses
of the FCC are one of many tools of political influence available to the
executive and legislative branches in their efforts to affect the behavior of
the Commission. Consequently, an analysis of these studies can provide
important insights into the politics of telecommunications regulation.
However, the findings of these studies, their recommendations for how the FCC
should be changed, and their methodologies, have yet to be systematically
analyzed within the context of regulatory behavior theory and research. Some
analysts of FCC policymaking have offered brief characterizations of these
studies. Horwitz (1989), in his analysis of telecommunications regulation,
argues that government-sponsored investigations of regulatory performance:
generally place the onus of . . . failure upon bureaucratic irrationality. . .
. All the government reports berate regulatory agencies for inefficiency and
for failing to analyze and plan. . . . These reports and their recommendations
are flawed . . . because they imply that the failings of regulatory agencies
are due to their misorganization and poor leadership. (p. 29)
Similarly, Le Duc (1973) states, "If there is one thread linking a series of
various governmental studies of the FCC, extending from the inception of the
agency through the beginning of this decade, it has been the nearly universal
condemnation of its efficacy in formulating communications policy" (p. 29).
Beyond these brief characterizations, these government-commissioned studies of
the FCC have not yet been thoroughly reviewed and analyzed within the context of
the regulatory behavior literature. This paper approaches this task with a
number of specific questions in mind:
1) What are the dominant theoretical frameworks supported by these
2) Are there significant differences between analyses commissioned by Congress
and those commissioned by the president? 3) To what degree can the findings
and recommendations of these analyses be attributed to political factors as
opposed to genuine public interest objectives?
4) How do these studies compare in terms of their findings and methodologies to
Answering these questions should provide insights not only into the behavior of
the FCC, but into its relationship with the executive and legislative branches
Regulatory Behavior and the FCC
Before examining the findings, recommendations, and methodologies of these
studies, it is important to review the theory and research on FCC behavior in
order to have the proper interpretive lens. What is most striking about the
literature on FCC behavior is the wide variety of theories of regulatory
behavior that have been proposed and supported empirically. While useful
categorizations of these different theoretical frameworks have been offered by
Mosco (1979) and Horwitz (1989), for the purposes of this analysis, these
frameworks have been organized into three categories: (a) Political, (b)
Industrial, and (c) Organizational. Each of these is summarized briefly below.
Political Theories of Regulatory Behavior
The political category of regulatory behavior theory asserts that political
institutions, such as Congress or the president, are the primary factors
determining FCC behavior. The congressional dominance model of course asserts
the centrality of Congress (Ferejohn & Shipan, 1989b; Krasnow & Shooshan, 1973).
The relevant subcommittees, in particular, are considered the locus of influence
(Heffron, 1983, p. 45; Tunstall, 1986, pp. 245-246). Congressional influence
stems from a variety of sources, including the power of appropriation (Devins,
1993, p. 167; Gellhorn, 1978; Owen & Breautigam, 1978); the Senate's power to
approve the president's FCC commissioner appointments (Krasnow, Longley & Terry,
1982, pp. 107-108); the threat of direct legislation (Ferejohn & Shipan, 1989b);
and Congress' oversight and investigation authority (Devins, 1993; Krasnow, et
al., 1982). Case study research has often found support for the congressional
dominance model (Ferejohn & Shipan, 1989b; Krasnow, et al., 1982; Krasnow &
Shooshan, 1973), though in some instances researchers have concluded that
Congress' influence efforts are not always successful (Devins, 1993).
The president is also an important factor within the political framework of FCC
behavior (Krasnow, et al., 1982, pp. 66-69). The president has the power to
appoint FCC Commissioners and designate the chairman. The power of appointment
can clearly be utilized by the president to staff the FCC with like-minded
personnel (Williams, 1993, p. 47). Also, given that the president's power to
designate the FCC's chairman is not subject to approval by Congress, some have
suggested that, through the chairman, the president is able to significantly
affect the policy direction and the decision-making of the FCC (Williams, 1993,
p. 48). Quantitative studies of FCC decision-making have found the party of the
appointing president to be a significant predictor of commissioner voting
behavior (Canon, 1969; Cohen, 1986), while historical studies have reached
similar conclusions (Lichty, 1961/62, 1962), with Williams (1993) claiming that
the regulatory philosophy of the appointing president is the single best
predictor of commissioner voting behavior (p. 45).
Industrial Category of Regulatory Behavior Theory
The industrial category of regulatory behavior theory encompasses those
approaches that begin with the assumption that the regulated industries are the
primary determiners of regulatory behavior. "Capture" theory, perhaps the
theory of regulatory behavior most frequently applied to the FCC (Horwitz, 1989,
p. 27), is the primary framework in this category. Some analyses have found
evidence that the FCC is--to varying degrees--"captured" by the industries it
regulates, due primarily to the "revolving door" that exists between government
service and industry (Berner, 1976; Cohen, 1986; Gormley, 1979; Lichty, 1962).
Under this perspective, regulators drawn from the regulated industry are
inherently more sympathetic to industry interests than regulators without
industry experience, while the incentive of post-regulatory employment within
the regulated industries also prompts sympathetic treatment.
Organizational Category of Regulatory Behavior Theory
The organizational category regulatory behavior theory focuses primarily on
organization-level variables and their effects on FCC behavior. For instance,
inefficiencies in bureaucratic organization and structure, particularly in terms
of information gathering and processing, are considered primary determinants of
FCC behavior (Braun, 1994; Le Duc, 1973; Mosco, 1975, 1979). A second common
assertion of organization-level analyses is that bureaucrats, primarily
concerned with maintaining and improving their position, either consciously or
unconsciously make decisions that preserve or expand the existing bureaucracy,
regardless of whether such decisions are in the public interest (Le Duc, 1973,
pp. 27-28). A final key argument of the organizational framework is that the
regulatory personnel are themselves inadequate for the tasks at hand. The
comparably low pay of government work and the lack of upward mobility act as
deterrents for talented and motivated personnel. As a result, the regulatory
agency functions at a lower level of efficiency and effectiveness (Emery, 1971,
The main point of this brief overview of the regulatory behavior literature
that has focused on the FCC is that the literature is extremely diverse in terms
of the theoretical frameworks that have been developed and supported
empirically. FCC behavior appears to be the product of a variety of influences
and no one theoretical perspective has adequately explained it (Besen, et al.,
1984, p. 179).
Government-Sponsored Studies of the FCC: Descriptive Information
This data set begins with the 1932 report entitled The Federal Radio
Commission: Its History, Activities and Organization, a primarily descriptive
report prepared for both Congress and the president by the Brookings
Institution. The data set concludes with the 1983 report entitled FCC Needs to
Monitor a Changing International Telecommunications Market, prepared by the
General Accounting Office for the House of Representatives' Committee on
Government Operations. A total of 15 separate government-commissioned reports
were included in the analysis. (The findings, recommendations, and sponsors of
these reports are summarized in the Appendix.) Five of the 15
government-sponsored analyses of the FCC were prepared for the president, while
the remaining ten were prepared for Congress (see Appendix).
Whether congressionally or presidentially sponsored, often these analyses of
the FCC were part of a much larger context, such as analyses of the regulatory
agencies in general (see Landis, 1960; President's Advisory Council on Executive
Organization, 1971; U.S. House of Representatives, 1960; 1976; U.S. Senate,
1977a, 1977b), or discussions of the future of American telecommunications
policy (see McMahon, 1958; President's Communications Policy Board, 1951;
President's Task Force on Communications Policy, 1968; United States General
Accounting Office, 1981).
Findings of Government-Sponsored FCC Analyses
Regardless of whether the analyses were sponsored by the legislative or
executive branch, they are enormously consistent in the extent to which they
support an organization-centered framework of FCC behavior and provide little,
if any, evidence supporting the industrial or political frameworks. The first
Hoover Commission report (Golub, 1948) is a typical example. The report was
commissioned by the President's Commission on Organization of the Executive
Branch of Government, though the impetus for creating the commission came from
Congress and not the president (Moe, 1984/85, p. 31; U.S. Commission on
Organization of the Executive Branch of Government, 1949, p. vi). The report
criticizes the FCC for a lack of coordination among bureaus (p. II-21), a lack
of interest in long-range planning (p. II-22), a failure to reappraise policies
(p. II-45), a lack of a regulatory philosophy (p. IV-10) and a high turnover
rate (p. II-22). These are all clearly organization-level factors. External
institutions such as Congress, the White House, or the regulated industries are
in no way accountable for these flaws in the Commission's operation.
While the report does address the possibility of external influences affecting
behavior, the findings provide no support for this perspective. Regarding the
possibility of presidential influence via the chairman, the report states,
"There is no indication, moreover, that the President has succeeded in achieving
Commission compliance with his desires through pressures exerted by the
chairman" (p. III-3). Nor does the report find any evidence that the president
attempts to fill the Commission with appointees sympathetic to his views: "The
appointments to the Commission, on the whole, do not appear to have been
designed to enable the President to dominate the Commission's policies" (p.
II-5). This rejection of the possibility of presidential influence starkly
contrasts with the findings of Cohen (1986), Williams (1976, 1993), and others,
who have found significant relationships between the party of the appointing
president and commissioner behavior.
The Hoover Commission report reaches similarly innocuous conclusions in terms
of Congress' role. The report explains congressional interest in the FCC as
The activities of the Commission are probably of more interest to the average
member of Congress than the operations of any other independent regulatory
agency. The impact of communications upon our national life is a matter which
cannot escape their notice and interest. In particular, of course, the
importance of broadcasting as a means of mass communication is brought home to
members of Congress in a direct and personal manner. (Golub, 1948, p. III-34)
The report concludes that the extent to which Congress influences the
Commission's policies and decisions is a "matter of conjecture" (Golub, 1948, p.
III-35). Nor does the report find any evidence of the appropriations committees
affecting decisions or policies (Golub, 1948, p. III-39). Finally, the report
even rejects the idea that the regulated industries have an impact on FCC
behavior. According to the report:
The total effects of industry pressures upon the Commission's activities are
difficult to appraise. It is questionable that the Commission has responded
consciously to these pressures. There can be no doubt that the Commission has
been seeking to act in the public interest rather than in those interests of
industry which may be incompatible with the public interest. (Golub, 1948, p.
Clearly, the "capture" theory, despite being the most prominent framework among
academic analysts of the FCC, is granted virtually no credence in the Hoover
Organization-level factors dominate other congressionally sponsored analyses of
the FCC as well. Again arbitrary decision-making and a failure to establish
clear standards are frequently cited problems (McMahon, 1958, pp. 154-157; U.S.
General Accounting Office, 1979, pp. 44-47; U.S. House of Representatives, p.
276; U.S. Senate, 1977a), as are failures to effectively analyze policy (U.S.
General Accounting Office, 1979, p. 78; 1983, p. 14), and personnel inadequacies
(Graham & Kramer, 1976; U.S. General Accounting Office, 1979, pp. 90-98; 1983,
p. 32; U.S. House of Representatives, p. 246). The Graham and Kramer (1976)
report, which focuses exclusively on the appointment process of FTC and FCC
commissioners, goes to great lengths in arguing that the Senate has
traditionally made little use of its power to approve presidential appointments:
"In short the Senate did not impose much in the way of standards on the
President except in the most extreme instances. Indeed, there was an unspoken
presumption that the appointee was fit by the fact that he had been nominated"
A similar pattern of organization-level attributions arises within the
presidentially sponsored analyses. The Landis (1960) report commissioned by
President-elect Kennedy cites a lack of qualifications among Commission
personnel (p. 36) and an inability to plan (p. 53) among the primary factors
inhibiting FCC performance. The report is particularly critical of the FCC's
leadership, going so far as to say that "The quality of its top personnel is, of
course, primarily responsible for these defects" (Landis, 1960, p. 53). A
report commissioned eight years later for President Johnson cites a lack of
long-range policy planning and inadequate technical staff as the primary factors
affecting the quality of policymaking (President's Task Force on Communications
Policy, 1968, pp. 2-22). Similarly, a 1971 analysis of selected independent
regulatory agencies (commonly referred to as the Ash Report, after the report's
primary author) prepared for President Nixon attributes regulatory shortcomings
to factors such as a failure to attract quality personnel, inadequately trained
staff, and the inflexibility of the collegial form (President's Advisory Council
on Executive Organization, 1971, pp. 4-21).
The key point of this review is that government-sponsored analyses of the FCC
have overwhelmingly supported the theory that FCC behavior is primarily
determined by organization-level variables. This is a stark contrast with the
academic research on the FCC, which has attributed Commission behavior to a
broader range of influences, including Congress, the president, and the
regulated industries. One possible reason for this divergence is that the
greater access to Commission data and personnel afforded these studies
contributed to a more theoretically consistent and more accurate set of
findings. Of course, one could also argue that, as products of the political
process, these studies primarily reflect the concerns and interests of those who
commissioned them. Consequently, any information uncovered in these analyses
that places any responsibility for FCC failures with those commissioning the
study may be likely to go unreported. An examination of the recommendations of
these reports provides support for this characterization of FCC analyses as
primarily political--rather than analytical--instruments.
Recommendations of Government Sponsored Analyses of the FCC A recurring pattern
among government sponsored analyses of the FCC is that they frequently advocate
increased responsibility or influence for the institution commissioning the
report. For instance, the 1951 report prepared by the President's
Communications Policy Board recommends the creation of a three-man
Telecommunications Advisory Board within the Office of the President to handle
tasks such as the formulation of broad national policies for national and
international telecommunications issues (p. 206)--a clear effort to transfer
influence from the FCC to the White House. The Landis (1960) report to
President-elect Kennedy recommends an increase in the FCC chairman's authority
(p. 85), a shift which could significantly increase the president's influence.
The report also advocates greatly increasing the reorganization powers of the
president, concluding that "The Executive, moreover, is less beset by the vested
interests in bureaucracy that too often find support from members of Congress"
(Landis, 1960, p. 36). The report actively attempts to deflect potential
criticism that it advocates excessive power for the executive branch:
The fact that the Executive Office of the President will play a large part in
the architectonics of particular administrative programs should not be utilized
as a basis for the claim of executive immunity from Congressional scrutiny.
The establishment of national goals to be effective must involve . . . teamwork
between the Executive and the Legislative. Weaknesses in planning or in the
execution of plans are a matter of broad public concern and the Congress has
its duty to discover and divulge these weaknesses, assess the blame for their
occurrences, and assist in making such provisions as it can for their cure.
(Landis, 1960, p. 83)
This passage gives a good sense of the degree to which these analyses of the FCC
must negotiate a treacherous political environment.
Similarly self-serving recommendations appear in the congressionally sponsored
analyses. The first Hoover Commission report commissioned by Congress makes no
recommendations regarding the Congress-FCC relationship, yet it does recommend
amending the Communications Act to require the president to show cause for the
removal of FCC commissioners (Golub, 1948, p. IV-55)--clearly an effort to
reduce presidential power. A 1958 study commissioned by the Committee on
Interstate and Foreign Commerce of the House of Representatives advises that
Congress should undertake the development of FCC standards and policies, given
that "The Commission has, after more than 20 years of operation, by itself been
unable to develop a definite set of standards" (McMahon, 1958, p. 160). In
addition, the report advises "that standing committees make full use of their
authority under the Reorganization Act to study the overall operations of the
Commission" (p. 163). Other recommendations include regular meetings between
the chairman of the Commission and members of the interested congressional
committees and periodic reviews of Commission activities at the beginning of
each Congress (McMahon, 1958, p. 163).
The Graham and Kramer (1976) study of FTC and FCC appointments, commissioned by
the Senate Committee on Commerce, recommends increasing the size of the Senate
staff dealing with Commission nominees, and that the Senate conduct its own
independent inquiries into the fitness of nominees. The report also recommends
full Senate access to any investigative checks conducted by the White House on a
nominee (Graham & Kramer, 1976, p. 421). Similarly, the 1976 Moss report,
commissioned by the House of Representatives, recommends that "Congress
intensify its oversight function to strengthen and assist resolution of
Commission policies" (U.S. House of Representatives, 1976, p. 276). Ultimately,
the report goes out of its way to abdicate Congress of any responsibility for
FCC shortcomings, while at the same time advocating greater congressional
control, stating that "Although the Commission's lack of policy cannot be
attributed to the Congress, we believe the Congress should establish closer
relations with the Commission for the purpose of clarifying legislative intent"
(p. 246). Ultimately, the report advocates a virtual congressional carte
blanche in terms of relationships with the regulatory agencies, concluding that
"To the extent that Congress, on behalf of the electorate, desires to assert
closer control over independent regulatory agencies it can, with minimal
limitations, do so" (p. 439).
The Senate-commissioned Study on Federal Regulation (1977a, 1977b) recommends
that regulatory agencies submit a list of agency goals and priorities for
congressional approval. The study also recommends systematic congressional
review of the regulatory agencies, greater congressional access to information
regarding the regulatory agencies, and increases in appropriations committee
staff (U.S. Senate, 1977b). Finally, a 1979 General Accounting Office report to
the Senate Subcommittee on Communications recommends that the Senate be granted
the power to approve the president's designation of chairman (p. ii).
In sum, while congressionally and presidentially sponsored analyses of the FCC
reach similar conclusions in terms of the problems affecting the Commission's
regulatory process, they differ substantially in terms of their proposed
remedies. Congressional reports tend to make recommendations strengthening
Congress' influence over the Commission, while those sponsored by the Executive
branch advocate greater presidential power. This pattern of recommendations
certainly implies that, while the findings of these reports may be generally
apolitical, their recommendations are not. Clearly these analyses are used by
the executive and legislative branches as tools in an ongoing struggle to
achieve greater influence over the activities of the FCC.
Methodologies of Government Sponsored FCC Analyses
In assessing the history of government analysis of the FCC, it is also
important to consider the methodologies used by these analyses. From a
methodological standpoint, these analyses can be divided into four categories.
They are: (a) Historical/legal studies of communications policymaking and the
FCC (Graham & Kramer, 1976; McMahon, 1958; U.S. General Accounting Office, 1979;
1981); (b) Interviews with FCC commissioners and staff (President's
Communications Policy Board, 1951; U.S. General Accounting Office, 1979, 1981;
1983; U.S. Senate, 1977a, 1977b); (c) Congressional hearings and testimony (U.S.
House of Representatives, 1960, 1976); and (d) Studies with no explicitly
defined methodology (Golub, 1948; Landis, 1960). Some studies are difficult to
categorize methodologically. For instance, the Ash report states that its
findings and recommendations are based on:
[T]he opinions of participants in, and observers of the regulatory process,
together with our own analysis of the history, current needs and current
structure of regulation. Our analysis also involved detailed consideration of
existing regulatory statutes, previous studies, and expert commentary.
(President's Advisory Council on Executive Organization, 1971, p. iv)
Given such a methodology, it is difficult to determine the basis of the report's
findings or recommendations.
None of the government sponsored analyses studied here conducted any
quantitative analysis of Commission behavior, though this has been a common
method among academic analyses of the FCC (Canon, 1969; Cohen, 1986; Gormley,
1979; Hill, 1991; Linker, 1983). Former FCC Commissioner Lee Loevinger (1968)
has criticized qualitative approaches to studying regulatory behavior:
[Y]ou cannot determine the function of a bureaucracy by parsing its statutory
grant of jurisdiction, or ascertain its structure or operation by examining its
table of organization. The bureaucracies simply cannot be understood or
effectively studied in terms of substantive rules and procedural formalities of
the kind that serve reasonably well for understanding court law. The need is
for quantitative methods, statistical analyses, principles of group dynamics,
techniques and principles of the kind employed in the behavioral sciences. (p.
While there are of course pros and cons to qualitative and quantitative methods,
the main point here is that government studies of the FCC have been exclusively
qualitative in those instances in which a distinct methodology was described.
A potential methodological problem arises from the fact that, whether through
interviews or congressional testimony, FCC personnel were the primary source of
information for many of these analyses. Certainly then, the findings should
adhere closely to what those within the FCC consider to be the primary
influences on the Commission's behavior. It is therefore not surprising that
the organization-level findings characteristic of the government analyses are
very closely mirrored in the writings of FCC commissioners. For instance,
former Commissioner Nicholas Johnson (1973) cites a lack of resources as a
primary factor affecting the commission's ability to respond to new technologies
(p. 136). In a Yale Law Journal account of "A Day in the Life" of the FCC, he
provides a virtual summary of the primary findings of over 50 years of
The Commission lacks data, makes no independent analysis, relies heavily on
information provided by interested parties, considers broad question piecemeal,
defers to industry interests, postpones difficult decisions, hopes for
compromises that the agency can ratify, and fails to anticipate major problems
before they arise. (Johnson & Dystel, 1972, p. 1580)
Similarly, former Commissioner Glen O. Robinson (1978) cites organization-level
factors such as procedural inefficiency, inadequate long-range planning, and an
underqualified staff as the primary impediments affecting FCC policymaking. Lee
Loevinger (1968), drawing upon his experience as an FCC commissioner, also
focuses on organization-level variables in his analysis of government
bureaucracy. According to Loevinger (1968), "government officials generally
seek to maximize the power of their positions. There is no other hypothesis
which so fully and consistently explains the actions of most policy-making
bureaucrats, and this hypothesis does fit observed behavior in the overwhelming
majority of cases" (p. 10). Consequently, he concludes, bureaucrats tend to be
"inflexible, static and conservative, rather than adaptive, innovative or
creative. Analysis of the complexus of motivations and rewards prevailing in
bureaucracies discloses that this tendency is inherent in the system"
(Loevinger, 1968, p. 11). Even Newton Minow (1964) was extensively critical of
FCC bureaucracy, describing it as resistant to new technology and beholden to
the status quo (pp. 300-301).
Certainly, as former members of the Commission, these analysts provide valuable
insights into the workings of the FCC. At the same time, it is unlikely that a
member of an organization will provide the most well rounded and objective
analysis of that organization. Therefore, the government's reliance on FCC
personnel for much of its analytical data raises questions as to the accuracy of
Specifically, information obtained from FCC personnel is subject to the
distortions characteristic of "upward" communication (i.e. communication
directed from a subordinate to a superior) (Jablin, 1992). While the FCC is
technically an independent regulatory agency, its reliance upon the executive
and legislative branches for funding certainly lends a superior/subordinate
character to the relationship, which may contribute to communication
distortions. In discussing the FCC's handling of broadcast license renewal
regulations, Cole and Oettinger (1973) demonstrate that "the rules of the
renewal game reported to Congress and those actually observed are not always the
same" (p. 146). Cole and Oettinger (1973) ultimately conclude that "what the
FCC reported to Congress was the theory of renewal, not the actual process of
renewal" (p. 172). Schwartz (1959) documents a shocking amount of
misrepresentation among FCC personnel testifying before Congress. These
findings raise questions about the validity of conclusions derived primarily
from interactions with FCC personnel.
Why, however, would Commission personnel engage in such apparent self-criticism
by citing organization-level factors as central to the inadequacies of the FCC,
while ignoring external sources of influence such as Congress, the president,
and the regulated industries? The research on distortions in upward
communication indicates that, within a hierarchy, individuals of a lower rank
will omit critical comments when communicating upward (Jablin, 1992, p. 289).
This finding suggests that FCC personnel may tend to omit the executive and
legislative branches as sources of negative influence within the Commission when
reporting to congressionally and presidentially sponsored investigators. FCC
personnel are likely to be cognizant of not angering or offending the holders of
the purse strings by blaming them for adversely affecting the regulatory
process. At the same time, citing organization-level factors is probably the
response most likely to generate increased funding. According to Arnold (1979)
"budgetary security"--that is, the maintenance of the agency's budget--is the
primary occupational goal of any bureaucrat, while the secondary motivation is
"budgetary growth" (p. 21). Increasing the Commission's budget is likely to be
the only remedy for problems such as inadequate analytical resources and
underqualified, undermotivated personnel.
In conclusion, government analyses of the FCC are somewhat suspect
methodologically. Some reports fail to articulate a specific methodology.
Those reports that do specify a methodology are exclusively qualitative in
nature, relying primarily on analyses of policy documents or on information
provided by FCC personnel. The degree to which such approaches alone can
adequately assess regulatory behavior is questionable.
This study has examined the findings, recommendations, and methodologies of 15
government-commissioned analyses of the FCC. The findings of these analyses
overwhelmingly support the organizational framework of regulatory behavior
theory. Factors such as inadequate long-range planning, insufficient resources,
and underqualified personnel are repeatedly characterized as the primary factors
affecting the performance of the FCC.
These government-commissioned studies provide little evidence supporting either
the political or industrial frameworks of regulatory behavior theory, in stark
contrast to the diversity of findings characteristic of the academic research on
FCC behavior. There are a number of potential explanations for this difference.
It may be that the methodologies employed biased the conclusion in this
direction. Or, it may be as Schwartz (1959) and Wilson (1989) have argued, that
such analyses are explicitly intended to have no political repercussions,
therefore questions about the role of political actors such as Congress and the
president remain essentially unasked, or that findings regarding their role go
unreported. Of course, if the findings of these studies intentionally neglect
important sources of influence upon the FCC's behavior, then reform efforts
based on these findings are likely to be ineffective (Calvert & Weingast, 1982,
p. 562). This is not to say that these analyses are completely devoid of
political purpose. These analyses have often been characterized as primarily a
form of political control of the Commission, whereby investigations and analyses
are used as signals of displeasure with FCC behavior. If this is indeed the
case, then the FCC must be among the most unruly of agencies, a "runaway
animal," as it has been described by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest
Hollings (Ferejohn & Shipan, 1989a, p. 301). According to Weingast and Moran
(1982), "Hearings and investigations . . . are not forums for the rational
consideration or public airing of policy alternatives; they are tools for
imposing sanctions on errant agencies" (p. 34).
If we accept this characterization, then the number of investigations and
analyses of the FCC indicate that the Commission has seldom performed to the
satisfaction of either Congress or the president. This situation shows no sign
of abating, as the House of Representatives recently decided to hold oversight
hearings on the FCC's handling of the implementation of the Telecommunications
Act of 1996, apparently out of disapproval of the Commission's activities to
date in implementing the Act (Schneider, 1996). Kittross (1980) points out that
few of the analyses discussed here have led to any major changes in the FCC (pp.
iv-v) (see also "Reorganization Plan No. 11" (1950), for an example of proposed
changes being rejected by Congress), which lends credence to the idea that these
analyses are primarily signals of intensified government interest or
displeasure, not public interest-motivated efforts to evaluate and modify the
functioning of the FCC.
This analysis indicates that the reports also provide analytical ammunition in
the ongoing struggle between the legislative and executive branches to garner
greater control over the activities of the FCC. The recommendations of these
reports demonstrate a pattern of advocating increased authority and power for
the institution commissioning the analysis. Congressionally sponsored analyses
recommend changes such as increased congressional oversight of the FCC and
increased congressional power in approving appointments. Presidentially
commissioned analyses, on the other hand, advocate changes such as increased
chairman power and increased presidential power in reorganizing the Commission.
Clearly, the process of government analysis of the FCC appears to serve as more
than a method by which Congress communicates displeasure with FCC performance
and thereby indirectly affects behavior. These analyses also serve as a method
by which the executive and legislative branches attempt to modify the structure
of their relationship with the FCC in an ongoing contest for greater control of
In order to better assess the validity of these conclusions it is necessary to
engage in deeper historical analysis of the political contexts in which each of
the reports discussed here was generated. This analysis has devoted little
attention to the changing political environment in which the FCC has operated,
the impact these reports have had on FCC operation and organization, and the
important political actors who have been involved in assessing and influencing
the Commission's behavior. Research into these areas should provide important
insights into how the congressional and presidential relationships with the FCC
have affected the structure, functions, and policymaking activities of the
Arnold, R.D. (1979). Congress and the bureaucracy: A theory of influence. New
Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Berner, R.O. (1976). Constraints on the regulatory process: A case study of
regulation of cable television. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger.
Besen, S.M., et al. (1984). Misregulating television: Network dominance and the
FCC. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Braun, M.J. (1994). AM stereo and the FCC: Case study of a marketplace
shibboleth. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Calvert, R.L. & Weingast, B.R. (1982). Runaway bureaucracy and congressional
oversight: Why reforms fail. Policy Studies Review, 1(3), 557-564.
Canon, B.C. (1969). Voting behavior on the FCC. Midwest Journal
of Political Science, 13, 587-612.
Cohen, J.E. (1986). The dynamics of the "revolving door" on the FCC. American
Journal of Political Science, 30(4), 680-708.
Cole, B. & Oettinger, M. (1978). Reluctant regulators: The FCC and the
broadcast audience. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Emery, W.B. (1971). Broadcasting and government: Responsibilities and
regulations. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press.
Ferejohn, J.A. & Shipan, C.R. (1989a). Congress and telecommunications policy.
In P.R. Newberg (Ed.), New directions in telecommunications policy, vol. 1:
Regulatory policy: Telephony and mass media (pp. 301-314). Durham, NC:
Duke University Press.
Ferejohn, J.A. & Shipan, C.R. (1989b). Congressional influence on
administrative agencies: A case study of telecommunications policy. In L.C.
Dodd & B.I. Oppenheimer (Eds.), Congress Reconsidered (4th ed.) (pp. 393-410).
USA: Congressional Quarterly.
Gellhorn, E. (1978). The role of Congress. In G.O. Robinson (Ed.),
Communications for tomorrow: Policy perspectives for the 1980s (pp. 445-462).
New York: Praeger.
Golub, W.W. (1948). Staff report on the Federal Communications Commission.
Committee on Independent Regulatory Commissions. Washington DC: U.S. Government
Gormley, W.T. (1979). A test of the revolving door hypothesis at the FCC.
American Journal of Political Science, 23(4), 665- 683.
Graham, J.M. & Kramer, V.H. (1976). Appointments to the regulatory agencies:
The Federal Communications Commission
and the Federal Trade Commission (1949-1974). Committee on Commerce.
Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Heffron, F. (1983). The Federal Communications Commission and broadcast
deregulation. In J.J. Havick (Ed.), Communications policy and the political
process (pp. 39-70). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Hill, A.E. (1991). Tests of theories of regulatory agency behavior: The Federal
Communications Commission and the establishment of the international satellite
communications system. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
Horwitz, R.B. (1989). The irony of regulatory reform: The deregulation of
American telecommunications. New York: Oxford University Press.
Jablin, F.M. (1992). Superior-subordinate communication: The state of the art.
In K.L. Hutchinson (Ed.), Readings in organizational communication (pp.
285-309). Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown.
Johnson, N. (1973). Institutional pressures and response at the FCC: Cable and
the Fairness Doctrine as a case study. In G. Gerbner, L.P. Gross, & W.H. Melody
(Eds.), Communications technology and social policy (pp. 113-145). New York:
John Wiley & Sons.
Johnson, N. & Dystel, J.J. (1973). A day in the life: The Federal
Communications Commission. The Yale Law Journal, 82(8),
Kittross, J.M. (Ed). (1980). Administration of American
telecommunications policy. New York: Arno Press.
Krasnow, E.G., Longley, L.D. & Terry, H.A. (1982). The politics of broadcast
regulation (3rd. ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press.
Krasnow, E.G. & Shooshan, H.M. (1973). Congressional oversight: The
ninety-second Congress and the Federal Communications Commission. Federal
Communications Bar Journal, 26, 81-117.
Landis, J.M. (1960). Report on regulatory agencies to the president-elect.
Subcommittee on administrative practice and procedure, committee on the
judiciary of the United States Senate. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing
Le Duc, D.R. (1973). Cable television and the FCC: A crisis in media control.
Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Lichty, L.W. (1961/62). Members of the Federal Radio Commission and the Federal
Communications Commission 1927-1961. Journal of Broadcasting, 6, 23-34.
Lichty, L.W. (1962). The impact of the FRC and FCC commissioners' background on
the regulation of broadcasting. Journal of Broadcasting, 6, 97-110.
Linker, J. (1983). Public intervenors and the public airwaves: The effect of
interest groups on FCC decisions. In J.J. Havick (Ed.), Communications policy
and the political process (pp. 149-170). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Loevinger, L. (November, 1968). The sociology of bureaucracy. The Business
Lawyer, 24, 7-18.
McMahon, R.S. (1958). Regulation of broadcasting: Half a century of government
regulation of broadcasting and the need for further legislative action.
Committee on interstate and foreign commerce. U.S. House of Representatives,
85th Congress, 2nd Session. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Minow, N. (1964). Equal time: The private broadcaster and the public interest.
New York: Atheneum.
Moe, R. (1984/85). A new Hoover Commission? The Bureaucrat, 13(4), 30-34.
Moe, T. (1982). Regulatory performance and presidential administration.
American Journal of Political Science, 26(2), 197-224.
Mosco, V. (1975). Broadcasting in the United States: A comparative analysis.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Program on Information Technologies and
Mosco, V. (1979). Broadcasting in the United States: Innovative challenge and
organizational control. New Jersey: Ablex.
Owen, B.M. & Braeutigam, R. (1978). The regulation game: Strategic use of the
administrative process. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger.
President's Advisory Council on Executive Organization (1971). A new regulatory
framework: Report on selected independent regulatory agencies. Washington, DC:
U.S. Government Printing Office.
President's Communications Policy Board (1951). Telecommunications: A program
for progress. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
President's Task Force on Communications Policy (1968). Final Report.
Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Reorganization Plan No. 11 of 1950: Providing for the reorganization of the FCC
(1950). 81st Congress, 2nd. session.
Robinson, G.O. (1978). The Federal Communications Commission. In G.O. Robinson
(Ed.), Communications for tomorrow: Policy perspectives for the 1980s (pp.
353-400). New York: Praeger.
Schmeckebier, L.F. (1932). The federal radio commission: Its history,
activities and organization. Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution.
Schneider, M. (April 29, 1996). House to examine FCC's handling of Telecom Act.
Electronic Media, p. 2.
Schwartz, B. (1959). The professor and the commissions. New York: Alfred A.
Tunstall, J. (1986). Communications deregulation: The unleashing of America's
communications industry. New York: Basil Blackwell.
U.S. Attorney General (1941). Final report of the Attorney General's committee
on administrative procedure. Washigton, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
U.S. Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of Government (1949).
The Hoover Commission report on
organization of the executive branch of government. New
U.S. General Accounting Office (1979). Organizing the FCC for greater
management and regulatory effectiveness: Report by the Comptroller General of
the United States. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
U.S. General Accounting Office (1981). Legislative and regulatory actions
needed to deal with a changing domestic telecommunications industry.
Gaithersburg, MD: U.S. General Accounting Office.
U.S. General Accounting Office (1983). FCC needs to monitor a changing
international telecommunications market. Gaithersburg, MD: U.S. General
U.S. House of Representatives (1958a). Administrative process and ethical
questions. Hearings before a subcommittee of the committee on interstate and
foreign commerce. 85th Congress, 2nd session.
U.S. House of Representatives (1958b). Investigations of regulatory commissions
and agencies. Hearings before a subcommittee of the committee on interstate and
foreign commerce. 85th Congress, 2nd. session.
U.S. House of Representatives (1960). Independent regulatory
commissions: Staff report to the special subcommittee on
legislative oversight of the committee on interstate and
foreign congress. 86th Congress, 2nd. session. Washington,
DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
U.S. House of Representatives (1976). Federal regulation and
regulatory reform: Report by the Subcommittee on Oversight
and Investigations of the House Interstate and Foreign
Commerce Committee, 94th Congress, 1st Session. Washington, DC: U.S.
Government Printing Office.
U.S. Senate (1977a). Study on federal regulation, vol. 2: Congressional
oversight of regulatory agencies. Committee on Governmental Affairs.
Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
U.S. Senate (1977b). Study on federal regulation, vol. 4: Delay in the
regulatory process. Committee on Governmental Affairs. Washington, DC: U.S.
Government Printing Office.
Weingast, B.R. & Moran, M.J. (1982). The myth of runaway bureaucracy: The case
of the FTC. Regulation, 6(3), 33-38.
Williams, W. (1976). Impact of commissioner background on FCC decisions:
1962-1975. Journal of Broadcasting, 20(2), 239- 260.
Williams, W. (1993). Impact of commissioner background on FCC decisions,
1975-1990. In R.J. Spitzer (Ed.), Media and public policy (pp. 43-60).
Westport, CT: Praeger.
Wilson, J.Q. (1989). Bureaucracy: What government agencies do and why they do
it. USA: Basic Books.
[--- Unable To Translate Box ---]
Summary of Government Analyses of the FCC
[--- Unable To Translate Box ---]
[--- Unable To Translate Box ---]