President Bush stuck to his pattern of picking insiders with last weeks appointments of three Washington policy veterans to the Federal Communications Commission.
The move is a departure from numerous recent FCC nominees recruited from tangential fields. Unlike some of their predecessors, Bushs choices are well-versed in the machinations of communications regulation.
Two of the three nominees, Kevin Martin and Kathleen Abernathy, previously held high-level positions at the FCC in addition to communications industry jobs.
Martin was legal adviser to Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth before leaving to serve as deputy general counsel for Bushs presidential campaign. Since the new administration took office, he has served as special assistant to the president for economic policy.
Abernathy worked at the commission from 1992 to 1993 as legal adviser to two FCC commissioners, including Chairman James Quello. She also was vice president for public policy at BroadBand Office Communications Inc. and was previously vice president of AirTouch Communications Inc.
Michael Copps, the third nominee, has not served at the FCC, but he does bring broad experience on Capitol Hill to the agency, having worked for Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., for 15 years. He has also worked at the Department of Commerce, most recently serving as assistant secretary for trade development.
“These people all have experience, as opposed to people mentioned in passing at a cocktail party,” said Sharpe Smith, a spokesman for the Industrial Telecommunications Association, in Arlington, Va. “It appears that Bushs [practice] of bringing in industry insiders might be at work here, and it might be working. I like the idea of using people from the industry who arent coming from ground zero in terms of a knowledge base.”
While insiders are expected to make the transition smoother for the agency and easier for lobbyists—and, by extension, the industries—some in Washington fear the nominees may meet resistance during their Senate confirmation hearings specifically because their extensive experience reveals their points of view. Because they already have held high-profile roles in communications policy making, they are more susceptible to critiques than outsiders would be. “There may be some problems on the Hill because these are known quantities,” an industry observer said.
The administration is seeking to fill the seats of outgoing commissioners Susan Ness and Furchtgott-Roth and the seat left by former Chairman William Kennard.
While the past two FCC administrations clashed frequently and sometimes stridently with key lawmakers in both parties, under Chairman Michael Powell the agency appears to have established a smoother relationship on Capitol Hill.
“Historically, the commission has not had enough appointees who came with a lot of experience in communications,” said Colleen Boothby, a partner at the Washington law firm of Levine Blaszak Block and Boothby LLP and an ex-FCC official. “Also, they are not dealing with arcane policy. These issues are front and center in the economy.”