Office of Management and Budget, Keeping in Character, Approves FCC Online Public File Rules

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted June 22, 2012

By Paul A. Cicelski

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has once again rubber-stamped and approved an FCC information collection request in apparent defiance of its statutory obligation to take a hard look at the burdens imposed under the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA). As I reported previously, the FCC adopted burdensome rules requiring television stations to replace their existing locally-maintained public inspection files with digital files to be placed online on an FCC-hosted website, including stations' detailed political records. What is a bit of a surprise, and frankly disappointing, is that the OMB took less than two weeks to approve the FCC's request even though the proposed rules appear to clearly violate the standards of the PRA, and lengthy comments were filed by multiple parties informing the OMB of that fact.

As I've stated, the new regulations will without question increase burdens on TV stations (including thousands of pages of copying, significant costs, and countless hours of employee time), while needlessly duplicating records already required to be maintained online by the Federal Election Commission. If such rules are not something the OMB should withhold approval of, or at least take a long hard look at, you have to wonder what level of burden is required to trigger a denial under the PRA. Very few FCC regulations that I can think of historically have imposed more paperwork burdens on stations than the online public/political file regulations.

In any case, in light of the OMB's approval, all Top 4 network affiliated stations in the top 50 markets will have to start placing political file material online 30 days after the FCC publishes a notice of the OMB approval in the Federal Register. I will provide an update when that publication occurs. However, there still may be some twists and turns coming, as it is more than likely that broadcasters will ask the courts to stay the effective date of the rules. If such a request is granted, the rules will not go into effect as quickly as the FCC is hoping.

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