The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is seeking public comment on a proposal that would end the agency’s process of conducting live adjudication hearings before an administrative law judge (ALJ) in favor of a system that considers only written testimony and documentary evidence.
Adjudication proceedings include agency determinations outside of the rulemaking process that resolve disputes between either an agency and a private party or between two private parties. Formal adjudication generally occurs when a statute other than the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) requires the agency to conduct a hearing on the record. Informal adjudication, which makes up nearly 90 percent of all agency adjudication proceedings, does not require a hearing and most often relies on oral or written testimony.
The FCC’s current adjudication process is subject to provisions of the Communications Act that require the agency to conduct hearings. Though the statute does not call for the agency to hold hearings on the record, which would mandate formal adjudication, the agency has nonetheless used formal adjudication procedures in some cases. The agency conducts these hearings like civil litigation trials, including live testimony before an ALJ, cross-examination of witnesses, and a decision from the ALJ that is subject to review by the FCC commissioners. However, the FCC “has observed that such trial-type hearings are costly and impose significant burdens and delays on both applicants and the agency that may not be necessary,” according to the proposed rule.
The modified hearing process would rely on written testimony and documentary evidence, enable FCC staff to act as case managers to supervise the written hearing record, and expedite the issuance of final orders by the FCC commissioners.
The public comment period will be open for 30 days following the publication of the proposed rule in the Federal Register.