Martin, Tate Mum On FCC Exit Dates


Washington—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 Monday that he's made no plans about exiting the agency, which oversees the cable, TV broadcasting 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 Monday 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. 19 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, Martin isn't required to leave the agency. He 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 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 that about the same time in January, FCC Democrats Michael Copps and John 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.

Obama has reportedly turned to former FCC commissioner Henry Rivera, a partner at Washington D.C. communications law firm Wiley, Rein, to head an FCC transition committee, according to informed sources.

Other sources said Monday that opposition to Rivera has forced Obama to consider other candidates, mainly because of Rivera's partnership in the Wiley, Rein law firm, headed by former Republican FCC chairman Richard Wiley. Martin was a Wiley, Rein associate.

"I haven't spoken to Henry Rivera about [the FCC transition]," Martin said.