WASHINGTON-Federal Communications Commission member Harold Furchtgott-Roth last week announced he will leave the agency once he has agreed on a departure date with the Bush White House.
Furchgott-Roth, a Republican appointed in 1997 whose term expired last June, stood out as an advocate for free markets, rather than regulation, and as a proponent of minimizing FCC involvement in media and telecommunications mergers.
"There comes a time when every free-market advocate in government must fulfill his dream of returning to the private sector," Furchtgott-Roth said in a prepared statement. "I will continue to serve until a mutually agreeable departure date is worked out with the administration."
His exit will create a second vacancy in the five-member agency. The first occurred when Democratic chairman William Kennard resigned Jan. 19 and was replaced by incumbent Republican FCC member Michael Powell on Jan. 22.
President Bush could possibly replace Democratic FCC member Susan Ness, who received a recess appointment from President Clinton in December. An FCC source said Ness may remain in office until Congress adjourns in the fall, while others say Bush can replace her at any time.
A source close to Ness said she would step down if Bush decided to name a replacement.
Furchtgott-Roth, a soft-spoken economist and father of six children, joined the FCC from a staff position with the House Energy and Commerce Committee. When he started at the agency, he garnered a lot of press attention after disclosing that his household did not have a television set.
Meanwhile, in an effort to appease industry and Capitol Hill critics, Powell is considering overhauling the agency's bureaus with an emphasis on consolidation along functional lines, according to agency and industry sources.
Under one proposal, Powell would phase out the Cable Services Bureau and merge it with the Mass Media Bureau. The mass media unit's duties would be further expanded to include the direct-broadcast satellite industry, which is currently within the purview of the International Bureau.
Sources said this piece of the consolidation plan made a lot of sense because important regulatory issues at the FCC overlap the cable, DBS and broadcast industries-particularly must-carry and other digital-television carriage rules.
According to a broadcast industry source, Powell has already informed Mass Media Bureau Chief Roy Stewart, an FCC veteran with strong backing from the broadcast industry, that he can keep his job in the new regime. An FCC source said Stewart was asked to stay along with all the incumbent bureau chiefs, as Powell spends his first few weeks in office focusing on agency operations.
Industry and FCC sources said Powell, who's held the top job for all of 10 days, has not committed to any consolidation plan. FCC spokesman David Fiske would not comment on any specific reorganization plan Powell might be considering.
"He is working on reform and reorganization," Fiske said.
Ken Johnson, spokesman for House Commerce Committee chairman Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), said Tauzin supports Powell's effort to begin his tenure as chairman with a top-to-bottom review of the FCC's structure and procedures.
Meanwhile, Powell has scheduled his first press conference for Feb. 6 at FCC headquarters.