FCC nominees get tangled in LightSquared controversy


Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski . (Christopher Powers/BLOOMBERG)

On Thursday, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) submitted in a Congressional statement directed to President Obama that he would object to the nominations of Jessica Rosenworcel and Ajit Pai as commissioners at the FCC.

Rosenworcel (D) and Pai (R) were nominated earlier this week by President Obama to join the five-member commission. Their nomination hearing was expected to occur within weeks. Both candidates are largely without controversy and were expected to be approved by the Senate.

An FCC spokeswoman declined to comment for this story.

But Grassley said he would stand in the way because of the FCC chairman’s denial of requests for documents in his six-month-long investigation of the regulatory process of LightSquared’s satellite venture.

Staff for FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski say they have cooperated with Grassley, but that his committee doesn’t have oversight over the agency and can’t make document requests.

Grassley has criticized the FCC’s response, saying the agency is standing in the way of the public’s right to know if there were any improper procedures that led the agency to grant LightSquared a special waiver last January to operate mainstream handsets on its network. Since then, the company and GPS makers have found that the company’s network interferes with global positing technology used by the military, airlines and even weather trackers.

“I strongly believe that it is critical for Congress to have access to documents in order to conduct vigorous and independent oversight.  It is unfortunate that this administration, which has pledged to be the most transparent in history, disagrees,” Grassley said in his statement. “As long as they continue to do so, I will be forced to take steps like this in order to ensure that Congress receives a complete picture of this administration’s actions.”

The Senate majority leader could decide to overcome Grassley’s hold on the nominees, according to experts.

But Grassley has done this before with success. He supported the blocking of James Cole’s nomination as deputy attorney general last summer. Grassley did so to get documents on the Justice Department’s actions in Operation Fast and Furious related to firearms that were transported across the Mexican border. Justice ultimately turned over the requested documents.

 Related:

Democrats call for investigation of bankrupt Open Range

FCC grants LightSquared waiver for satellite network

Obama names as FCC commissioners Pai, Rosenworcel

Cecilia Kang is a staff writer covering the business of media and entertainment.

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