Telecommunications:

FCC Has Made Some Progress in the Management of Its Enforcement Program but Faces Limitations, and Additional Actions Are Needed

GAO-08-125: Published: Feb 15, 2008. Publicly Released: Mar 13, 2008.

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) annually receives about 100,000 complaints from individuals and companies. FCC has the authority to investigate these complaints and take enforcement action if it finds a violation of the telecommunications laws and rules, which are designed to ensure, for example, that individuals have access to 911 services and a wider affordable range of communication services. As requested, this report reviews FCC's enforcement program and (1) summarizes the number and type of complaints received, investigations conducted, and enforcement actions taken by FCC from 2003 through 2006; (2) discusses how FCC assesses the impact of its enforcement program; and (3) discusses challenges FCC faces in providing complete and accurate information on its enforcement program. To address these objectives, GAO analyzed FCC's databases, interviewed FCC officials, telecommunications executives, and experts.

According to GAO's analysis of FCC data, between 2003 and 2006, the number of complaints received by FCC totaled about 454,000 and grew, from almost 86,000 in 2003, to a high of about 132,000 in 2005. The largest number of complaints alleged violations of the do-not-call list request and telemarketing during prohibited hours. FCC processed about 95 percent of the complaints it received. FCC also opened about 46,000 investigations and closed about 39,000; almost 9 percent of these investigations were closed with an enforcement action, and about 83 percent were closed with no enforcement action. GAO was unable to determine why these investigations were closed with no enforcement action because FCC does not systematically collect these data. FCC told GAO that some investigations were closed with no enforcement action because no violation occurred or the data were insufficient. FCC assesses the impact of its enforcement program by periodically reviewing certain program outputs, such as the amount of time it takes to close an investigation, but it lacks management tools to fully measure its outcomes. Specifically, FCC has not set measurable enforcement goals, developed a well-defined enforcement strategy, or established performance measures that are linked to the enforcement goals. Without key management tools, FCC may have difficulty assuring Congress and other stakeholders that it is meeting its enforcement mission. Limitations in FCC's current approach for collecting and analyzing enforcement data constitute the principal challenge FCC faces in providing complete and accurate information on its enforcement program. These limitations make it difficult to analyze trends; determine program effectiveness; allocate Commission resources; or accurately track and monitor key aspects of all complaints received, investigations conducted, and enforcement actions taken.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To develop a more effective approach to enforcing telecommunications laws and Commission rules, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission should improve how FCC collects and analyzes data on complaints received, investigations conducted, and enforcement actions taken to help it better manage and understand the outcomes and net results of enforcement efforts and to provide Congress and stakeholders with timely and accurate information that can be used to hold FCC's enforcement program accountable for accomplishing its mission under the Act.

    Agency Affected: Federal Communications Commission

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We reported in 2008 that limitations in the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) approach for collecting and analyzing enforcement data constitute the principal challenge FCC faces in providing complete and accurate information on its enforcement program. These limitations make it difficult to analyze trends, determine program's effectiveness, allocate resources, or track and monitor key aspects of all complaints received, investigations conducted, and enforcement actions taken. Thus, we recommended that FCC improve its data collection and analysis efforts. In November 2011, FCC deployed its Activity Tracking System that will allow it to monitor the Commission's workflow and operations; improve reporting capabilities; and enhance the reliability and consistency of the Commission's enforcement data. FCC's actions will provide Congress with information on program results to support its oversight of FCC and enhance the Commission's ability to achieve its mission.

    Recommendation: To develop a more effective approach to enforcing telecommunications laws and Commission rules, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission should develop and implement additional performance management practices, such as outcome measures, to assess the performance and improve the accountability of FCC's enforcement program.

    Agency Affected: Federal Communications Commission

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We reported in 2008 that limitations in the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) approach for collecting and analyzing enforcement data constitute the principal challenge FCC faces in providing complete and accurate information on its enforcement program. These limitations make it difficult to analyze trends, determine program's effectiveness, allocate resources, or track and monitor key aspects of all complaints received, investigations conducted, and enforcement actions taken. Thus, we recommended that FCC develop and implement performance goals and outcome measures for its enforcement program. In November 2011, the Commission developed and implemented outcome measures including a one-year target for addressing formal complaints, responding within one month to the majority of emergency interference complaints, and taking action on interference to public safety complaints within one day. FCC's actions will provide Congress with information on program results to support its oversight of FCC and enhance the Commission's ability to achieve its mission.

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