WASHINGTON-Capitol Hill insiders once again are playing the name game, this time regarding who will be nominated to replace former Federal Communications Commissioner Andrew Barrett, who left the agency for new public-relations digs last month.
Possible candidates for the Republican spot include several Hill staffers, current FCC Common Carrier Bureau chief Regina Keeney and former FCC General Counsel Diane Killory, one state public utility commissioner and a university professor. However, knowing fingers point to Earl Comstock, legislative director for Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), as the nominee of choice.
“Yes, Sen. [Larry] Pressler [R-S.D.] mentioned this as a possibility a while back in an interview,” Comstock told RCR. “If the stars are all lined up right, who knows?” Comstock has not been contacted personally by anyone involved in the search process, but Congress comes back from recess this week and things could heat up.
Comstock, a 35-year-old lawyer, is perceived as a logical pick because of his ties to Stevens, who serves on the Appropriations subcommittee that monitors the FCC’s budget, and for his in-depth knowledge of the budgeting process. Money will be an ongoing issue at the FCC, and it wouldn’t hurt to have a commissioner with friends in high places.
In his position as legislative director, Comstock has focused on interconnection, universal service and long-distance entry issues along with acting as one of the key staffers behind the crafting of 1993 auction language.
Despite pundit prognostications, there may be no hurry to fill Barrett’s position. Conventional wisdom says that the high-backed, leather chair will remain empty until after the November election, because Congress wants to know who the next president will be before it confirms any successor. According to one source, Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.) “is controlling the process so that Clinton can’t make a recess appointment.” In addition, Clinton only would nominate a Republican with “a liberal track record,” the kiss of death as far as a GOP-run confirmation panel is concerned; the Administration also would be disinclined to put itself through another messy confirmation process during an election year.
A four-commissioner panel does not bode well for wireless dockets that have been languishing at the FCC, including refarming, frequency coordination, new 800 MHz guidelines and Phase Two 220 MHz rules. RCR has been told that any item deemed “controversial” by Chairman Reed Hundt-meaning any vote that could end in a 2-2 tie-will be held up until after a new commissioner is chosen or until after the elections.
“If we have to wait around until after the election and if the Administration changes, then we have to start all over,” one manufacturer lamented.