Abernathy Leaves Next Month

Washington— Republican Kathleen Abernathy is leaving the Federal Communications Commission on Dec. 9, putting Republican chairman Kevin Martin in the awkward position of running the agency with two Democrats.

Abernathy announced her resignation last week in a letter to President Bush, who was traveling in Asia. Bush has not named anyone to fill her seat.

A former FCC staff member and private-communications attorney whom Bush named to the FCC in 2001, Abernathy decided to leave the agency now, rather than seek a new five-year term.

After her term expired last year, she was legally entitled to remain in office until Congress adjourned this year. In recent weeks, Abernathy indicated that she wanted to leave the agency so she could pursue new opportunities.

In keeping with the deregulatory ethos of the Bush administration, Abernathy favored a light regulatory touch, concerned that regulators couldn’t keep pace with rapidly changing market conditions. In 2002, she objected to extending cable program-access rules for additional five years.

Two weeks ago, Bush agreed to renominate Democrat Michael Copps for a new five-year term. Turning to someone outside D.C., policy circles, Bush picked Republican Tennessee state regulator Deborah Taylor Tate to fill the unexpired portion of former FCC chairman Michael Powell’s term. After four years as chairman, Powell resigned in March to start his own consulting firm. He was also named a senior adviser to Providence Equity Partners Inc.

Since Powell’s departure, Martin has coped with an FCC that’s equally divided. The addition of Tate, probably not until after Abernathy’s departure, won’t upset the balance until Bush can get a third Republican confirmed.

FCC appointees need Senate Commerce Committee approval.