FCC Transition May Be a Bloodless One

Dec 14, 2008  •  Post A Comment

A House Energy & Commerce Committee report may have been damning of Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin’s leadership, but it appears it won’t result in any quick congressional restructuring of the nation’s communications agency.
While it’s still early, upcoming changes at the White House and in the chairmanships of the House and Senate committees overseeing the FCC seem to argue against major congressional action.
The main reasons: Mr. Martin will be out as FCC chairman in six weeks anyway; it’s expected the Obama administration’s FCC appointee will be making most of the desired changes at the FCC; and the congressional committees overseeing the FCC may have other priorities.
The investigative report, released Dec. 9, cited numerous problems with Mr. Martin’s leadership.
It said that Mr. Martin “manipulated, withheld or suppressed data, reports and information” in an attempt to regulate cable TV companies, that the FCC had failed to carry out important responsibilities including submitting required reports to Congress, and that Mr. Martin had exhibited a “heavy-handed, opaque and non-collegial management style” that created “distrust, suspicion and turmoil among five commissioners.”
In the House, incoming Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., has made clear that his main focus will be healthcare and energy policy. And it’s not clear whether Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who has chaired the committee’s telecommunications panel, and Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., chairman of the committee’s oversight and investigations subcommittee, which issued the Martin report, will keep their posts—a vote won’t take place until January. An aide to Mr. Markey last week declined to comment on either the report or plans to make FCC changes.
The investigation of Mr. Martin was spurred by current House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., and by Mr. Stupak.
Mr. Stupak, who is hopeful of keeping his panel chairmanship, said the conduct uncovered by the committee showed “an abuse of power” at the FCC and warrants additional investigation of the Martin administration, but that the problems uncovered may be better handled by installing a new FCC chairman than by rewriting a law.
“The quicker Mr. Martin leaves the FCC, the better for telecommunications and all of us,” he said. “If nothing else, he left us a blueprint for what not to do.”
In the Senate, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is expected to take over as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. Mr. Rockefeller has declined comment on his agenda pending his formal selection as chairman by the Democratic caucus.
The possibility that Congress won’t in fact act to revamp the agency would be a surprise conclusion to a yearlong investigation that started with Mr. Stupak and Mr. Dingell questioning Mr. Martin’s leadership and the transparency of his actions as FCC chairman. Repeatedly during that year, Mr. Dingell had talked of rewriting the communications law to deal with some of the issues raised by the probe.

Your Comment

Email (will not be published)