The FCC chairman has been formally accused of dodging and deceiving the federal lawmakers charged with the oversight of his agency.
In a letter sent this week,House Democrats said the chairman, Ajit Pai, has been avoiding important questions sent by members of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, the legislative group tasked with reviewing and supervising the Federal Communications Commission.
Pai has repeatedly failed to respond to questions sent by letter to his office, the lawmakers said. More than two dozen such letters were resent to Pai on Wednesday. Some of the questions were first sent as recently as last month, while others are dated as far back as March 2017. The topics vary widely, addressing issues ranging from the unauthorised use of mobile phone surveillance equipment to the maintenance of wireless networks after natural disasters.
Specifically, Pai was admonished over his "lack of candor," a term that in federal parlance roughly translates to "withholding information that should be disclosed," which is to say, the chairman was not accused of lying outright.
In the colloquial vernacular, however, fluent to those of us in the wide world outside the Capitol complex, where gradations of sincerity are less finely parsed, Pai's alleged inadequate frankness might be characterised more expressly as "lying by omission."
"We are concerned," the lawmakers wrote, "that you have been unable to give complete responses to verbal questions, questions for the record, or oversight letters from our members," adding: "We take our oversight responsibilities very seriously, and we expect witnesses before the Subcommittee and recipients of our letters to treat their responses the same way."
The FCC did not respond to a request for comment.
The letter notes that earlier this Congress, Pai was all about trumpeting the value of congressional oversight, saying it was integral to keep lawmakers abreast of "what the FCC is doing." He had also vowed to be "responsive to all congressional inquiries," insofar as the law and rules of the Commission require.
"To date, your responses to our requests, in the instances when we receive them, do not meet the very commitment you made to us, and we hope that will change," the lawmakers wrote.
The letter was signed by the Energy and Commerce Committee's ranking member, Frank Pallone, Jr., and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Ranking Member Mike Doyle, as well as: Rep. Peter Welch, Rep. Yvette Clarke, Rep. Dave Loebsack, Rep. Raul Ruiz, Rep. Debbie Dingell, Rep. Bobby Rush, Rep. Anna Eshoo, Rep. Eliot Engel, Rep. G.K. Butterfield, Rep. Doris Matsui, and Rep. Jerry McNerney.
While, in effect, Pai may be obstructing congressional oversight of his agency by failing to respond to the members' inquiries, Democrats are in the minority are therefore have no power to compel his response. Even formal questions for the record, passed along when agency officials fail to respond sufficiently in committee hearings, must flow through the majority's office.
"Oversight of the agencies within our jurisdiction is one of the most important responsibilities of the Committee," the letter said. Hearings and letters, the Democrats added, "ensure agencies within our jurisdiction are accountable to the American people and provide answers on some of the most critical issues affecting our constitutions."