GAO Lambastes FCC for Lousy Complaint Response System

To say the Federal Communications Commission isn’t responsive enough to citizen complaints about telemarketers or TV programs likely would be an understatement of monumental proportions, if a new study from the U.S. Government Accountability Office is accurate.

On Thursday, the GAO issued a report that blasted the FCC for a lack of responsiveness to complaints.

The study found that between 2003 and 2006, 83 percent of the 454,000 complaints the FCC conducted received no action. The GAO was unable to determine why these investigations were closed with no enforcement action because FCC does not systematically collect these data, the group said.

Limitations in Data Collection

FCC told GAO investigators that some investigations were closed with no enforcement action because no violation occurred or the data were insufficient, according to the report.

“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,” the GAO said in its report. “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.”

There’s no simple solution for rectifying these types of problems, said Jerine Rosato, program manager of strategic management services and manager of customer relations for the Port of San Diego.

“There’s no silver bullet,” Rosato told CRM Buyer. “Government agencies obviously tend to have a lot more regulations than maybe a private agency has, and sometimes it’s good and sometimes not.”

‘Not an Easy Fix’

It all begins with communications, Rosato added. “From our standpoint, it’s not an easy fix. We’ve been working on this for many years. Part of it is the tool set you give your staff members to follow up. You pretty much think people are following the same type of process. We have time frames put on these things as to how quickly it needs to be responded to. A lot of it is the culture of the organization. In my estimation, that’s 90 percent of the battle.”

The bigger the organization, the more problems, Rosato continued. “The big keys are the processes that almost everybody touches, how to move without putting tons of layers for getting everything through the system and out the door again. It’s starting to make a difference for us. We’re trying to remove those layers of who has to see this or sign this before somebody can pick up the phone and make a call.”

Kris Anne Monteith, chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, wrote in a response letter that the GAO study was flawed. Closer examination of FCC paperwork would show that the agency actually closed only 3 percent of its cases without action, she said.

Monteith also noted that her agency also had implemented changes that the GAO had suggested in its report. “As staff indicated to the GAO during its investigation, by the time of this audit we were already aware of these issues and already had plans in place to improve both the commission enforcement data collection and processes,” Monteith wrote.

Falling Through the Cracks

Agencies like the FCC that receive complaints in vast volumes could circumvent problems with some simple communication techniques, Rosato noted.

“From a customer relations perspective, it’s tracking those calls that come in that really matters,” she said. “Some things inevitably will fall through the cracks, but we have ways of catching those sooner or later. And sooner is the key.”

It’s also important to set realistic expectations among constituents, Rosato concluded. “If it’s going to take two weeks to deal with a problem, let the customer know it will take two weeks. If somebody offers me a service, it doesn’t matter to me if it takes a month, as long as I’m told that.”

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