Wayne Leighton and the rest of the team assigned to plan a new FCC Office of Economics and Analytics (OEA) have produced an excellent report—everything Chairman Pai could have hoped for when he announced his intention to establish such an office last April. The motivation for this initiative is the widespread concern that economic analysis has not been well utilized in some of the agency’s most important decisions. I, among many others, have previously expressed such concerns and recommended formation of an economics bureau along the lines the FCC’s report is now proposing.
The report contains a thoughtful and carefully researched analysis of how to better incorporate economics into the agency’s policy making, drawing on lessons from other agencies and adapting them to the needs and culture of the FCC. Among its most important recommendations, the report proposes that the “OEA should produce a separate, non-public memorandum on economic issues to accompany documents circulated to the Commission.” The commissioners will undoubtedly not always accept the recommendations of the economists, but their analysis, whether or not it supports the Commission’s ultimate position, should be available to the commissioners unfiltered.
The report includes many other worthwhile recommendations aimed at the culture of the agency, including revitalizing the research program and publishing working papers, which the policy office used to do routinely, and establishing an Honors Economist Program modeled on the successful Honors Attorneys Program.
Of course, much remains to be done in implementing the plan, including developing more specific procedures on how to incorporate economics into Commission decision-making and how to apply Regulatory Impact Analysis to communications policy issues. None of this will be easy and, as with any reorganization, there will undoubtedly be hiccups along the way. But this promises to be one of the most important parts of Chairman Pai’s legacy.