Wall Street Journal opens up a can of worms that is ICANN’s compliance department

Jeff Elder of Wall Street Journal has written the blog post below on the discrepancies in the ICANN’s answers on the compliance department.

Icann’s Contradictory Answers to a Simple but Important Question

How many compliance staff members does Icann have? It would appear to be a simple question, but not one the Internet Corp. For Assigned Names And Numbers has always had an easy time answering.

Icann manages technical aspects of the Internet’s domain-name system, and has been overseen by the Commerce Department since 1998. Next September it’s due to break from the U.S., and the agency says it doesn’t need outside oversight. “There will be no need to have a replacement,” Icann Chief Executive Fadi Chehade told the Journal.

Going solo will also mean stepping up consumer protection, and staffing of the compliance department reflects Icann’s ability and willingness to protect consumer interests, according to the Federal Trade Commission and others.

Chehade told the Journal on Oct. 2 that he has quadrupled the compliance staff as CEO, but records show the compliance staff was 12 people when Chehade was hired and is 21 people today. Icann says Chehade was referring to the size of the compliance staff in 2010, two years before he joined the Los Angeles non-profit.

In January 2012, Chehade’s predecessor, Rod Beckstrom, told the FTC in a letter it made hires “nearly doubling” the department from the year before. But records show the staff was 9 people in 2011 and 12 in 2012. “A lot of the people at Icann are very well-intentioned and dedicated,” former FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz told The Journal about this incident. “But it was difficult for even the commission to get straight answers out of Icann.”

Similarly, an independent auditing team wrote in 2012, “We found it difficult to obtain basic information about the compliance function. For example: What are the staff figures through time? We received contradictory answers.”

Icann says it has not deceived anyone on the issue. “Icann has been open and transparent in disclosing changes in staffing levels over time. Some of the confusion on staffing figures,” the agency said in a statement, “simply reflects that staffing levels changed over time.”

Leibowitz said he is not convinced that Icann has resolved all its confusion. “I worry that if Commerce cuts the umbilical cord with Icann before these issues are ironed out, there will be a lot of risk to consumers.”