In not so many years past, Congress spent its days legislating and measuring its work’s effects with meaningful oversight. Lawmakers had time for this because they did not spend their days engaging in hyper-partisan oversight of the other party or fundraising 20 to 30 hours a week — 52 weeks a year.
The boring but essential job — “checking the homework” of the administration and of private parties promising Congress to take specific actions — keeps honest people honest and protects the American citizenry. Conversely, lack of proper congressional oversight is at the root of many spending and overreach boondoggles — ($640 toilet seats, anyone?).
After Congress legislates, it is an essential part of the process to follow the work to check its implementation. When Congress directs a federal agency to build a bridge, research a vaccine, oversee a mega-merger for antitrust implications or any other matter, it is Congress’ job to make sure that the people’s will, manifest in that legislation or rulemaking, has been executed properly.
That work is not being done anymore, and the administration — Republican and Democrat — feels no reason to be truthful or forthcoming with Congress. This situation is doubly so for private parties testifying to Congress. Take, for example, the recent T-Mobile/Sprint merger.
In April 2020 and after extensive congressional pre-merger oversight, the third- and fourth-largest telecoms merged into the new T-Mobile. Along the way, there were many promises made to Congress.
Years earlier, when two of the big three automakers underwent government-approved reorganization during the Obama administration, the auto dealers were all but wiped out by the post-reorganization companies. Congress did not want to see that happen again and held hearings to ensure it would not. In direct testimony, the telecom CEOs told Congress that the merger would mean more jobs and an increased retail footprint with “at least 600 new retail stores” to better serve consumers.
So, two years after the telecom merger, how is T-Mobile doing with its promises generally and specifically the promises regarding store outlets? More to the question, is Congress following up on the promises made to it by T-Mobile and Sprint when the merger was proposed?
Well, the situation is not so good.
Post-merger, T-Mobile started closing stores run by smaller dealers and vendors left, right and center. Some of these vendors have now come together to file litigation against T-Mobile, claiming $500 million in damages due to the new company’s actions after the merger. Together, this group claims that nearly 400 of their stores were closed and more than 2,500 jobs were lost. The verdict on other promises about jobs, 5G capacity to customers, providing 5G to its business partners, and providing satellite service to customers appears to be mixed.
According to then-CEO of T-Mobile John Legere, “This merger is all about creating new, high-quality, high-paying jobs, and the New T-Mobile will be jobs-positive from Day One and every day thereafter.” In reality, after the merger, T-Mobile laid off hundreds of employees from Sprint’s sales team, euphemistically labeling its actions as a way of asking them to “consider a career change inside the company” or “to find a new position outside the company.”
According to one legal filing, “a new, completely different, and contradictory message than any that T-Mobile of Sprint had previously communicated” was shared by one T-Mobile representative in a call that took place soon after the merger. About the closures, it was admitted that “T-Mobile only acquired Sprint for its network assets, not real estate or dealer distribution,” a concerning contrast with previous public statements.
To their credit, several members of Congress had warned against the merger and informed the Department of Justice that they could not support it. Nice but easy words if no follow-up is planned and no oversight was or is yet.
Congress must resolve itself to do its job. It must implement extensive ordinary oversight hearings after the fact on matters like this — matters essential to the proper functioning of our country.
If the threat of this post-merger oversight loomed as a reality, the CEOs might have more cautiously qualified the statements they made to get the merger done. But in fact, why should they? Congress has little respect for the process, so why should anyone else?