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URL 30: Charlotte T. Reid of the FCC—Mediocrity at the Highest Level

URL 30: Charlotte T. Reid of the FCC—Mediocrity at the Highest Level

(In Chapter 36, page 169) (1,372 words) (33,394 cum words)

Government Bureaucrats: The Higher the Level, the Lower the Quality

So, many regulators come right from the industries they are supposed to regulate. What difference does this make? I think it leads to the corruption of our system. On the one hand, this probably increases their qualifications, because they know the industry they regulate—they have expertise, in other words. But, still, the conflict-of-interest problem is there! This problem lowers their qualifications. Let’s look at the American Bar Association’s 1969 report on Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC likes to hire mediocre “older men who had been out in the world for 10 years or so and had come to appreciate that they were not going to make much of a mark—because they tended to be loyal and remain with the FTC.” They also hire mediocre women. Charlotte Reid, a prime example of this, became an FTC commissioner in 1971. (Footnote 1)

Reid was a member of the House of Representatives, representing Illinois, from 1963 to 1971. That was the year that Richard Nixon picked her to be a FCC commissioner—“mainly because she was a friend, a Republican, and a women.” Her only claim to fame in Congress was being the first female to wear a pantsuit on the floor of the House.

Not many of the appointees to federal regulatory agencies are women. But, ”in more important ways, Reid typifies many of her regulatory colleagues: She lacks apparent qualifications for the job, and she doesn’t display much interest in her work.” She collects her $38,000 annual pay (Footnote 2) and relies upon her legal assistant “to guide her through much of her FCC work,” since she is often “off on one of her frequent speaking trips.”

Reid has a lot of friends in the same boat she’s in, folks! Indeed, the “Washington regulatory landscape is strewn with old friends of Presidents unprepared for their assignments and largely uninterested in the industries they regulate.” Many don’t take their work seriously—they attend hearings infrequently, and spend most of their time flying around the US speaking to industry groups for big bucks. They do little to resolve the complex issues faced by their agencies.

As a result of these shenanigans, good men and women are hard to find on the regulatory commissions.

Mediocrity Attracts More Mediocrity, Incompetence Attracts More Incompetence

The Wall Street Journal said, “The tradition of lackadaisical service and presidential indifference has largely robbed the agencies of the challenges which attract creative people. Those who do agree to serve often find it a thankless job.” It went on to say that “the most notable thing she has done in her seven-year FCC term was to spend $4,600 of government money installing in her office a private bathroom with a large gold-framed mirror. She also has distinguished herself by her absence; she’s gone from the FCC more than any other commissioner.” She began complaining soon after she joined the FCC that its annual $3,500 travel allowance was too small. After it was raised to $4,500 in 1974, she still maintained that industry groups should be allowed to pay commissioners’ expenses for speaking engagements. Her main speech is titled “Congresswoman Turned Regulator.”

Reid used to be “Annette King” on Don McNeil’s very popular radio program, Breakfast Club. That was in 1936-39. She has parlayed her three-year singing career into “positions of prominence few women ever achieve….In Congress, she sang along with her male colleagues in the Illinois delegation, even cutting a record with Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen. (Footnote 3) And at the FCC, former Commissioner Nicholas Johnson recalls, she whiled away long commission meetings by sketching treble clefs on a yellow note pad” In fact, she said, “Singing is he only ambition I ever had.”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with singing—up to a point. I don’t think singing is a key qualification for a member of a federal regulatory agency. But liberal Senator Charles Percy of Illinois, (Footnote 4) disagrees with me. He told his colleagues in the Senate, “Having had a career as a radio vocalist, she is familiar with many of the operations of the broadcast industry from her own unique experience.” In fact, at the Senate hearings, her brief and distant singing career “emerged repeatedly as a key qualification.”

How Charlotte Reid Got Confirmed at the Senate Hearings

Senators “enthusiastically praised her charm and femininity. But none asked her views on issues like women in broadcasting, the fairness doctrine on pay TV versus so-called “free” TV. In fact, she was asked nothing. Senator Marlow Cook (Footnote 5) summed up the hearings by telling Mrs. Reid, “It must be kind of a relief to receive a seven-year term instead of a two-year term.”

The Wall Street Journal said that her confirmation hearing was “typical of the vapid sessions the Senate usually holds, supposedly to grill a nominee on his qualifications and regulatory philosophy. More often than not, it all resembles a sort of civilized shotgun wedding. Like the unfortunate bridge, the nominee is rarely the Senators’ first choice. But at least, he or she usually holds sufficiently bland views to arouse no strong opposition. And the White House usually helps arrange a tranquil ceremony by checking with former commissioners, important industry heads, and key senators (especially those from a nominee’s home state) before announcing the appointment. ‘The process is designed to produce gray men and women,’ a regulatory expert says.”

What Are Reid’s Interests, If Any?

The best you can say for Red is that she is “uninterested,” according to the Wall Street Journal. She hasn’t given any speeches on the topic of children’s TV—supposedly her favorite issue. She hasn’t pressed for any new FCC action in that area. She says, “I’m not a woman’s advocate,” either. In fact, she has gone the other way—instead of zeroing in on complex issues, she has turned more to traveling and lucrative speech-making. FCC insiders say that she “appears to have given up on really grasping the narrow, legal, and technical issues before the FCC.” Instead, she relies on her legal assistant, Roscoe E. Long, or votes the way that FCC Chairman Richard Wiley (Footnote 6) votes. She herself came up with this gem: “I came on with the idea of not getting too involved with any one issue.” She has succeeded!

She has succeeded in not getting involved so well that broadcast representatives and some citizens’ groups complain that “her lack of expertise is matched by her inaccessibility. Her office usually reports that she is too busy to meet spokesmen for either industry or citizens groups. On rare occasions when she consents to an appointment, they say, she often shunts the visitors at the last minute to Roscoe Long.” One visitor in 1974 found only one other name on the day’s calendar, even though he was told that he was “squeezed” into a busy day of appointments. One broadcast lobbyist says, “She’s simply not interested enough to go into any issue deeply.” Another industry lawyer says, “Her inaccessibility concerns me. I know she doesn’t read the long, turgid briefs I file. And if she won’t personally discuss the issues either, then she has to go get her information from Roscoe, and he isn’t confirmed by the Senate to make these decisions.”

Indeed, Roscoe Long is “almost a shadow commissioner. He writes Reid’s speeches and her rare written opinions. In commission meetings, he frequently jumps up to explain her views on complicated issues or walks up to the common bar to advise her on a vote. Other legal assistants call him the FCC’s eighth commissioner.”

Getting Inside Reid’s Mind

What does Reid really think? She has been quoted as saying that government regulation should be used sparingly and only as a last resort. But when you ask her to elaborate on that, she deflects the request with “a few polite words and a smile.” You can’t find out what she thinks by her speeches, and she has made only 10 dissents (as of 1974) from hundreds of FCC decisions. These 10 dissents are so brief that they don’t offer any real clues. One lawyer who has attended the closed FCC meetings says, “You rarely get a glimpse of her understanding or lack thereof because she usually just sits there.” What a dud!

Footnotes:

1. Reid died in 2007 at the age of 93. Information in this URL first appeared in the October 25, 1974, issue of the Wall Street Journal.

2. In 2018, the base salary for all members of the House and Senate was $174,000 per year plus a hell of a lot of benefits.

3. Dirksen died in 1969 before all the events in this book happened. He was 73.

4. Percy died in 2011 at the age of 91.

5. Cook died in 2016 at the age of 89.

6. Wiley was 83 in 2018.

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