January 6, 2011

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Dortch '92 Approaches Ninth Year as FCC Secretary

Marlene Dortch '92 sitting behind a painting
of her grandfather, Jesse Owens.

In some circles, Marlene H. Dortch ’92 has forever been known as the granddaughter of legendary track star, Olympic gold medalist, and Ohio State great Jesse Owens. She has, and always will have, an unceasing admiration for her grandfather. But Dortch, who has spent nearly nine years as secretary of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is also tallying up some remarkable successes of her own.

Her accomplishments and hard work are apparent at the FCC, where she has maintained her appointment under three different commission chairmen.

“I have been very fortunate throughout my career at the commission,” she said. “I have had some good mentors who have been very helpful to me, and I’m proud of what we have accomplished.”

About a year after graduating from Moritz, Dortch started her 17-year career with the commission by landing a job as an attorney advisor. She spent seven years working in the FCC’s media bureau, which she said catered to her pre-law school, public relations work experience.

She then was promoted to chief of the Equal Employment Opportunity Office within the FCC. The office was designed to create and oversee the enforcement of new rules for the broadcast media and cable stations.

Dortch next became the director of the FCC’s Office of Communications Business Opportunities. As Dortch described, large media and communications corporations – like General Electric, Verizon, or AT&T – have full-time lobbyists and staffs clamoring for their interests. She directed an office intended to act as a liaison and voice for the small, minority, and women-owned businesses also trying to make their footprint in the communications industry.

“We were truly acting on behalf of the little guys,” she said. “We were also required by law to determine the effect of a potential merger on these small businesses.”

Dortch was in that role until April 2002, when she was appointed to secretary of the FCC. Dortch’s duties include overseeing the filing of complaints regarding companies under the FCC’s umbrella, such as those in telephone, broadband technologies, broadcast television and radio, cable, telemarketing, and disability communications. When Dortch began the position just 20 percent of the filings were completed electronically. Thanks to Dortch’s leadership, now more than 90 percent of all filings are submitted online.

“It really is telling how much technology has changed how we behave,” she said. “It has changed how we operate within our office, but it also constantly is changing the responsibilities of the commission. As goes technology, so goes telecom.”

Dortch and the 28 employees who she manages organize monthly meetings of the commission. Dortch said she spends much of her time explaining the FCC’s voting and filing processes to people in the public and communications industries. She also works with the chairman and commissioners to publish their comments regarding recent decisions. To boot, she manages the agency’s library.

“There really is no ‘typical’ day in my position,” she said. “I think that’s what makes the position so interesting.”

Dortch said that she also enjoys the role because it allows her enough time to be mom to her 9-year-old son, Llewellyn Jr.

Dortch and her husband, Llewellyn, live in Maryland. While she is outside of the office, Dortch spends much of her time playing “team mom” for Llewellyn Jr.’s many athletic endeavors.

She also is periodically called upon to speak regarding her grandfather’s accomplishments and legacy. She recently traveled to Florida to speak at a Holocaust museum there, and spoke to a group of teachers in Washington.

In August 2009, Dortch was invited to accompany the U.S. Track and Field Team to the International Association of Athletics Federations World Championships in Berlin, Germany. The championships were held in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, the same stadium in which Dortch’s grandfather won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics.

“It was truly an amazing experience,” Dortch said. “I feel very proud to be his granddaughter and am thankful that I had the chance to know him. It’s very humbling.”

Dortch said that she also is happy to pass on Owens’s legacy to Llewellyn Jr., who was recently asked at school to complete a report regarding a famous American. “He chose Jesse Owens. He is very proud of his great-grandfather and his family history. That is definitely a sense of pride for me.”

Dortch said that part of that family pride includes Ohio State. Dortch, her mother, aunt, and uncle are all loyal Ohio State graduates. “I owe a lot of where I am today to my grandfather and the legacy he provided for our family,” she said. “The Ohio State University played a major role in shaping that legacy, and for that I am forever thankful.”

SideBar is a monthly electronic newsletter for Moritz College of Law alumni. Questions regarding this publication should be directed to moritzlawnews@osu.edu.