Institutional Design, FCC Reform, and the Hidden Side of the Administrative State
University of Colorado Law School
February 2, 2009
U of Colorado Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 09-01
Legal scholars have long recognized the importance of the modern administrative state, focusing intently both on the substance of regulatory law and the process of administrative law. Neither focus, however, recognizes the importance of institutional design and institutional processes as determinants of the nature and shape of administrative regulation. The era of neglect towards institutional analysis by both scholars and policymakers may well be on its last legs, as it is increasingly clear that the institutional processes used by regulatory agencies - including when to act by rulemaking as opposed to by adjudication, how to engage the public, and how to collect and share data relevant to policymaking - greatly shape the substantive outcomes of important regulatory proceedings. The emerging question will be how best to study institutional process and create a new direction for administrative law scholarship.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) represents an ideal case study to underscore the importance of institutional analysis. Over the last fifty years, the agency has confronted a regular set of criticisms about its reliance on ex parte communications, its lack of data-driven decision-making, and its tendency to act in an ad hoc manner. Nonetheless, the importance of reforming the agency has not risen to the top of the scholarly or public agenda - until recently. In the wake of a series of high-profile criticisms of how the agency operates, the question is now finally shifting to how - and not whether - to reform that agency's institutional processes. This Article highlights the importance of asking that question, explaining how the FCC operates in dysfunctional ways, how it can be reformed, and why this case study highlights an important new frontier for administrative law scholarship.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 48
Keywords: FCC Reform, Administrative Law
JEL Classification: K23
Date posted: February 3, 2009 ; Last revised: September 4, 2014