"Sickening" NomCom must be reformed, says ex-chair

Rob Hall decries lobbying, inexperience and damaging insider nature of crucial ICANN body

The ex-chair of ICANN's Nominating Committee has called for an "open and frank" discussion to reform what he says is a fatally flawed, even corrupt, process that selects half of the organization's Board members.

"I am deeply concerned about how the NomCom functions," Rob Hall told .Nxt, "and I could not change it from within."

Among the extraordinary accusations Hall levels at the committee are: determined lobbying reflecting politics in other parts of the organization; use of the Committee to provide free travel support to ICANN meetings; an insider culture that promotes friends and colleagues ahead of more qualified candidates; and a refusal to listen to formal advice from ICANN's own Board of Directors.

Hall told us he was "sickened" by what he saw in the last few days of last year's Nominating Committee, which announced its decisions in August, and as a result resigned his chair-elect position. "I would rather make a change from the outside than perpetuate that," he explained.

The job of the Nominating Committee had changed significantly in the past five years, Hall noted, but the committee's make-up and processes have not followed suit. Instead, the committee - made up of people selected from ICANN's own constituencies - has become increasingly junior, even corrupt.

Travel slots

"It is being used as a paid travel slot for stakeholder groups," Hall claims, recalling conversations he had with different groups. When Hall proposed that the committee did not meet at all of the three annual ICANN meetings, he says he was met with intense lobbying to scrap the idea. "I don’t know why the NomCom needs to be ICANN meetings at all - it conflicts with time, and pulls them away with what they should be doing."

Another member of the Nominating Committee confirmed privately to .Nxt that some members - who receive full travel support, accommodation and even expenses to ICANN meetings across the globe - have not even turned up to committee meetings stating that they were busy with their own constituency's work. The NomCom costs the Internet community over $2 million annually, most of it flying committee members and candidates across the world.

The current members are also too inexperienced to do a good job, Hall argues. "We should be putting people with the right skills on this committee, not policy-wonks and lobbyists. Instead, we put on insiders who want to put other insiders on the Board because know them and trust them and know how they will vote."

When an independent committee recommended last year that the NomCom use a professional recruiting firm to find candidates, it was "immediately shot down by the NomCom", Hall reveals.

"If all it does is recruit within its own self - over 60 percent last year were insiders - that's what you're going to get. I've heard candidates shot down because they don’t know enough about ICANN - and we are talking about senior people on the board of multi-national companies, exactly the sort of people we are looking for."

Lost opportunity

This year in particular - with 1,000 of the world's largest companies applying for their own Internet extensions - was an ideal opportunity to bring in more senior and experienced people, Hall argues. It was an opportunity that was roundly missed due to the insider nature of the committee and the failure of any effective outreach.

More worrying is the increased lobbying that the committee has experienced. "We are starting to see lobbying inside the NomCom: 'If I support this candidate will you support this one for me'. We are seeing the politics of GNSO play out in the NomCom." The committee is "becoming introverted and an extension of other factions at ICANN."

Even more troubling is the fact that committee members dismiss formal advice given to them from, among others, ICANN's chair, CEO and Board of Directors, about who they are looking for and what skills they need.

"I can’t tell you how often we have had people from Board or staff tells us: 'We don’t need programmers, we don't need people who know about TCP/IP, we've got enough of them'. And then in the debates, people will say 'they need that' - despite being told the opposite only a few days earlier."

Highlighting the insider nature of the organization, Hall even recalls committee members dismissing the views of senior ICANN Board members as not knowing what they were talking about, noting that they personally had been to more ICANN meetings.

Why did he not stay on and make the changes he wants to see? Hall says that is not the job of the NomCom chair. The chair has no CEO-style powers, not even a vote, and can only act to marshal the other committee members. He says he felt "handcuffed" as NomCom chair, even coming under intense pressure when he set up a wiki to provide updates on the committee's work.

Solutions

In total, Hall paints a picture of the Nominating Committee that aligns dangerously with what have been long-held fears by those outside the notoriously secretive group. It wasn't always so, he says, and typically in the past "people have come together in the last few days and done the right thing". But Hall puts that down more to luck than design. "In theory it's great. But if you have the wrong people on it, or have people who have no experience in what they're doing - you are looking at a disaster."

As for how to fix the problem, Hall has a number of suggested solutions, including:

  • Changing the way Committee members are chosen
  • Removing the committee's extraordinary secrecy ("the only things that should be secret are the candidates' names and the debates about them")
  • Including Board members on the committee, or even allowing Board members to select their own additional members
  • Not holding NomCom meetings at all ICANN meetings
  • Bringing in professional recruiters
  • Forcing members to explain their final choices
  • Reforming the selection process (no serious senior people will go through the current process, Hall argues)

Most importantly though, Hall says, is that the ICANN community first acknowledge the problem. "This has to begin with an open and frank discussion. This has to change. Hopefully my resigning and speaking out like this will be the impetus for people to take notice."

ICANN will be meeting this coming week in Toronto.

Comments

Perhaps Nomcom has run its course

it is unfortunate that the Nomcom process has lost the trust of the community. But we have to recognize that it has. It is even more unfortunate that ALAC has adopted a Nomcom like perversion for its leadership to select a Board member.

Perhaps it is time to re-think and to work on reestablishing Board elections. Yes, it would be a challenging task to do properly, but it could be done; the study of elections is quite advanced and I am sure there is a modality of open democracy that could do the job for ICANN.

It is time for us to find our way back to original promise of ICANN - a participatory democracy with an elected Board.

Avri

Good reporting

Congrats to the editor and Ron Hall. Quite a piece of honesty. We're missing such courageous contribution. Everyone should look at the inception of ICANN, and understand where was the mistake in the very beginning. As we cannot ask the late Jon Postel, maybe Ira Magaziner could explain us more of the current state of Internet Governance. He should come to Dubai at the next WCIT to explain what want wrong.
Jean-Christophe NOTHIAS
Editor
The GLOBAL JOURNAL
www.theglobaljournal.com
jc.nothias@theglobaljournal.net

Interesting

So, I guess what goes on inside the nomcom is no longer confidential.

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