FCC responds efficiently, but most interesting information left out

The Federal Communications Commission on November 28th posted in one website documents responsive to multiple FOIA requests for information regarding Lightsquared, which is setting up a satellite-based broadband network.  From the FCC:

The Federal Communications Commission has received numerous requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for documents related to LightSquared, Sky Terra, Mobile Satellite Ventures, Motient, Harbinger, TerraStar, and people related to these entities. For the convenience of the requesters and the public, under the “frequently requested records” provision of the FOIA, 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(2)(D), the FCC has created this public web portal to provide ready access to publicly available documents and other responsive documents not otherwise exempt from release under the FOIA

This response will surely help the FCC efficiently respond to each requester. Sounds good, right?

But what the FCC chose to disclose — and not disclose — is at the heart of the dispute, the Washington Post points out in this story posted Nov. 23:

“The trove of hundreds of documents shows widening concern by lawmakers, federal agencies and consumers over whether the satellite technology owned by the firm, called LightSquared, would interfere with GPS systems and put airplanes in harm’s way. These officials also questioned whether the FCC had thoroughly tested the system.

The release, which was in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by several media outlets, largely cull from the public record and did not include any of the internal deliberations that led FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to bypass a vote by his own commission and allow LightSquared to move forward with its plans.”

So by efficiently releasing documents in one place on a particular hot topic, the FCC did well.  By not yet releasing the document trail explaining the FCC’s handling of Lightsquared, the FCC still falls short.  This shows the difference between processing problems and the substance of agency’s decision to disclose.  Too often agencies can get away with avoiding disclosure of the most inconvenient information.

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