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Reps. Meeks, Cummings, and Pallone Lead Request for GAO Investigation into Fraudulent Identities Submitted to FCC

Dec 5, 2017
Press Release

Reps. Meeks, Cummings, and Pallone Lead Request for GAO Investigation into Fraudulent Identities Submitted to FCC

Washington, D.C.—Congressmen Gregory W. Meeks (NY-05), Elijah E. Cummings (MD-07), and Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06) led six other Democrats in sending a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting that it investigate and issue a report that uncovers the extent that outside groups were using false identities during the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) recent net neutrality rulemaking process.  The letter also requests that GAO examine whether this shady practice extends to other agency rulemaking processes. Reps. Cummings and Pallone are the Ranking Members of the Oversight and Government Reform and Energy and Commerce Committees respectively. Other Democrats who signed on to the letter include Reps. Eliot L. Engel (NY-16), Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12), Nydia Velasquez (NY-07), Paul Tonko (NY-20), Elizabeth Etsy (CT-05), and Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08).

 “We understand that the FCC’s rulemaking process requires it to address all comments it receives, regardless of who submits them,” the Members wrote. “However, we do not believe any outside parties should be permitted to generate any comments to any federal governmental entity using information it knows to be false, such as the identities of those submitting the comments.”

The full text of the letter is below and available online here:

 

December 4, 2017

 

The Honorable Gene Dodaro

Comptroller General

U.S. Government Accountability Office

441 G Street NW

Washington, DC 20548

 

Dear Mr. Dodaro:

 

We are writing to request that the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigate and report on the extent and pervasiveness of fraud and the misuse of American identities during federal rulemaking processes, including, for example, the net neutrality rulemaking process used by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) (WC Docket No. 17-108) pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). 

 

Earlier this summer, Ranking Member Pallone requested that the FBI look into this potential fraud, fearing it amounted to a violation of federal law.[1]  Further, on November 21, 2017, Eric T. Schneiderman, the Attorney General of New York, sent a letter to the FCC conveying significant evidence that fake commenters “made up names and addresses” and “misused the real names and addresses of actual people as part of the effort to undermine the integrity of the comment process.”[2]  He added:

 

My office analyzed the fake comments and found that tens of thousands of New Yorkers may have had their identities misused in this way.  (Indeed, analysis showed that, in all, hundreds of thousands of Americans likely were victimized in the same way, including tens of thousands per state in California, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and possibly others.)[3]

 

In addition to implicating state law, these activities appear to violate 18 U.S.C. §1001, which makes it a felony for any person to “knowingly or willfully” make “any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation” in any matter under the Executive Branch’s jurisdiction.  Submitting comments to the FCC or any other federal entity using someone else’s identity appears to violate this very prohibition.

 

We are also concerned that the FCC appears to be withholding information requested by Attorney General Schneiderman to allow him to investigate these abuses.  As he stated in his letter:

Successfully investigating this sort of illegal conduct requires the participation of the agency whose system was attacked.  So in June 2017, we contacted the FCC to request certain records related to its public comment system that were necessary to investigate which bad actor or actors were behind the misconduct.  We made our request for logs and other records at least 9 times over 5 months: in June, July, August, September, October (three times), and November.

 

We reached out for assistance to multiple top FCC officials, including you, three successive acting FCC General Counsels, and the FCC’s Inspector General.  We offered to keep the requested records confidential, as we had done when my office and the FCC shared information and documents as part of past investigative work.

 

Yet we have received no substantive response to our investigative requests.  None.[4]

 

            We understand that the FCC’s rulemaking process requires it to address all comments it receives, regardless of who submits them.  However, we do not believe any outside parties should be permitted to generate any comments to any federal governmental entity using information it knows to be false, such as the identities of those submitting the comments.

 

For these reasons, we ask GAO to investigate the prevalence of outside parties generating comments to federal rulemakings by utilizing false or stolen identities.  We request that you begin with the FCC’s net neutrality rulemaking process, but ask that you identify any other rulemaking processes you deem appropriate for this review.  In addition, we request that you examine the information the FCC is withholding from the Attorney General of New York, and whether that information bears on potential violations of 18 U.S.C. §1001.  Finally, we request that GAO investigate whether federal agencies have established proper controls for detecting and preventing fraudulent comment submissions during the federal rulemaking process, as well as provide any recommendations for improvements.

 

If you have any questions regarding this request, please contact Ernie Jolly of Rep. Meeks’ staff at (202) 225-3461 or Tim Lynch of Ranking Member Cummings’ staff at (202) 225-5051.  Thank you for your consideration of this request.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

______________________                                        ______________________

Gregory W. Meeks                                                     Elijah E. Cummings

Member of Congress                                                  Ranking Member

                                                                                    Committee on Oversight and

Government Reform

 

_____________________                                          _____________________

Frank Pallone, Jr.                                                        Gerald E. Connolly

Ranking Member                                                        Ranking Member

Committee on Energy and                                          Subcommittee on Government

Commerce                                                                  Operations

                                                                                   Committee on Oversight and

                                                                                   Government Reform

           

 

_____________________                                          _____________________

Eliot L. Engel                                                              Carolyn B. Maloney

Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress

 

 

_____________________                                          _____________________

Nydia Velázquez                                                         Yvette D. Clarke        

Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress

 

 

_____________________                                          _____________________

Paul Tonko                                                                  Elizabeth H. Esty       

Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress

 

 

_____________________                                         

Hakeem S. Jeffries                                         

Member of Congress                                                 

 

 

cc.        The Honorable Trey Gowdy, Chairman

            Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

 

            The Honorable Greg Walden, Chairman

            Committee on Energy and Commerce

 

[1] Letter from Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr., House Committee on Energy and Commerce to Jeffery B. Sessions III, Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice and Andrew G. McCabe, Acting Director Federal Bureau of Investigations (June 28, 2017) (online at democrats-energycommerce.house.gov/sites/democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/files/DOJ.FBI_.%202017.06.28.%20Letter%20re%20federal%20law%20violations%2C%20stolen%20identities%2C%20and%20FCC%20open%20comments.%20CAT.%20OI.pdf).

[2] Letter from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, State of New York, to Chairman Ajit Pai, Federal Communications Commission (Nov. 21, 2017) (online at https://medium.com/@AGSchneiderman/an-open-letter-to-the-fcc-b867a763850a).

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

115th Congress