The "next couple of months will be crucial" for ICANN, said Nancy Victory, an assistant secretary for communications and information at the US Department of Commerce. Victory testified today before the US Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space.
ICANN was created by the US to oversee the domain name system and operates under an agreement with the Department of Commerce that is set to expire at the end of September. The Bush administration has not decided whether to extend the agreement, modify it or let it expire, said Victory, who outlined a series of steps that ICANN must take to improve its operation.
Victory delivered her assessment before a panel that was largely critical of the organisation, which was created to introduce competition to the domain name system as well as ensure its stability and security.
"Serious structural reform must be entertained," said Senator Conrad Burns, who said ICANN had morphed from a group charged with deciding purely technical issues "into a policy-making body, however, with none of the due process requirements placed on agencies given policy-making power".
The committee chairman, Senator Ron Wyden, told ICANN officials, "I just want to convey the depth of frustration out there in the Internet community. E-people don't feel they are being listened to."
The US General Accounting Office added fuel to the fire with a report that claimed ICANN has made progress in increasing competition in the domain name space, but not in improving security, saying that ICANN was behind in developing operational and security requirements for all the entities that run the domain name system.
Stuart Lynn, ICANN's president, admitted that not everything was perfect, but defended his group's effort at reforming itself and said venturing into policy areas was not something that could be easily avoided. For instance, in creating top-level domains, ICANN must consider what name and under what conditions they are created, he said.
ICANN faced intense criticism over its process for picking seven new top-level domains two years ago, a process that resulted in the rejection of many top-level domains proposed by companies and organisations. Its election process for selecting board members has also been a sticking point.
"Bias and favouritism are woven deeply into ICANN's form," said ICANN board member Karl Auerbach at the hearing. "ICANN resists public accountability."
Victory said that among the steps the Bush administration wants ICANN to take are reforms ensuring accountability, giving all Internet stakeholders a fair hearing, developing an effective advisory role for governments and ensuring that it has the money and staff to carry out its mission.