Abernathy to Depart FCC

Nov 21, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Republican FCC Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy announced last week that she will step down Dec. 9 from the Federal Communications Commission, despite there being no replacement for her at the agency.

Her departure clears the way for the agency’s two Democrats to achieve a voting majority-at least until new GOP commissioners can be seated.

A shift in the agency’s political balance is in the offing because the FCC, which is authorized to have five commissioners, has had to make do with two Republicans and two Democrats for almost a year. The FCC has been short-handed because the White House and Senate have failed to approve a candidate for the fifth seat, which is designated for a Republican and would give the GOP a voting majority on the commission.

Ms. Abernathy’s term expired in June. When she leaves, the FCC will be made up of one Republican-Chairman Kevin Martin-and two Democrats-Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein.

President Bush recently nominated Deborah Taylor Tate, director of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, for a Republican seat at the agency. At the same time, he renominated Commissioner Copps for a new term in a Democratic seat.

Despite the concerns of some Republicans about the voting power that the FCC’s two Democrats could have when Ms. Abernathy leaves the agency, one well-placed FCC source said Chairman Martin will still be able to control the agency because he controls the FCC’s agenda through his power to decide which issues come up for votes.

“Control of the agenda ensures that nothing bad can happen,” the FCC source said.

The Senate Commerce Committee last week announced it will hold confirmation hearings Dec. 13 on Ms. Tate and Mr. Copps. But the prospects for swift Senate action are iffy at best because Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, has made clear that he wants the White House to name a candidate that the senator backs and wants to hold hearings for all three nominees at the same time.

With the need to conduct background checks on potential nominees, it’s unclear how quickly President Bush could move to accommodate the senator, assuming the president wants to do so.

As of last week, Sen. Stevens was declining to identify his FCC candidates. But he said he has suggested “multiple” names to the White House.

Asked when he planned to hold hearings on the two nominations the White House has already announced, Sen. Stevens said: “Well, I hope we get the third one soon, and when we do we’ll have a hearing on it.”

Despite the senator’s vow of silence on his own slate of potential candidates, the name of one was being bandied about in industry circles last week: Thaddeus Bingel, the congressional liaison for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Mr. Bingel, who worked on telecommunications issues for former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, also is a former counsel for the House Judiciary Committee.