Change is coming to the five-member Federal Communications Commission but two Bush appointees about to lose their positions won’t say when they will leave.
FCC chairman Kevin Martin, a Republican, can be replaced by President Obama as soon as he takes office on Jan. 20. Usually, the incumbent FCC chairman steps aside just as the new administration assumes control.
But Martin told reporters last week that he’s made no plans about exiting the agency, which oversees the cable, broadcast and satellite-TV industries.
“I don’t have any plans to be going anywhere yet,” Martin said. Pressed for more details, he balked. “I’m saying I don’t have any plans,” he said.
FCC Republican Deborah Taylor Tate, whose term expired in mid 2007, needs to leave the agency when Congress returns in early January.
Tate, asked last week when she planned to leave, said, “I’d guess when I’m told to.”
Tate said she is concentrating on the agenda for the FCC’s Dec. 18 public meeting, probably her last.
Martin and Tate took questions from reporters attending an event at the Newseum to start the 100-day countdown to Feb. 17, 2009, the date when all full-power TV stations need to switch to digital broadcasting.
Unlike Tate, Martin has some flexibility. Although he is certain to lose his chairmanship, he isn’t required to leave the agency. Martin may serve as an ordinary commissioner (something he did from July 2001 to March 2005) until at least June 30, 2011.
Some of Martin’s telecommunications-industry allies might want him to stay to keep the political balance even at two Republicans and two Democrats for as long as possible.
“Reporters have asked me a lot about it, but the industry hasn’t actually talked to me about it,” Martin said. “I’m just focusing on our day-to-day work. I really don’t have any plans to end up discussing with you all today.”
If Martin and Tate were to leave at about the same time in January, FCC Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein could work quickly to enact a range of new policies over the objections of the remaining Republican, Robert McDowell.
The Democrats could, for example, immediately adopt network-neutrality rules that Obama supported in the Senate and on the campaign trail.
Obama is likely to name either Copps or Adelstein as interim FCC chairman while he looks for his own chairman and reviews candidates to fill Tate’s slot.
Meanwhile, the Obama-Biden transition team last Wednesday named former National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Tom Wheeler to participate in a working group “responsible for the science, technology, space and arts agencies.”
Former FCC chairman Reed Hundt was named to help oversee international trade and economics agencies, and Don Gips, former chief of the FCC’s International Bureau under Hundt, was named as co-chair of the transition’s Agency Review Working Group.