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Editorial: Lost Priorities

We would hate to see two capable, competent people ready to serve their country left hanging—or worse, cut loose entirely—by circumstances beyond their control.

We are talking about Federal Communications Commission nominees in perpetual waiting Jessica Rosenworcel and Ajit Pai who, by all accounts, including bipartisan FCC watchers and a host of legislators on both sides of the aisle, are ready, willing and able to fill the two vacant seats at the FCC.

One top Republican called Rosenworcel smart, savvy and chairman material, if obviously too regulatory for his tastes. Both Rosenworcel and Pai got bipartisan shout-outs at their confirmation hearings and were expected to sail through to confirmation…until they hit Hurricane Grassley.

Their nominations appear to be victims of the ongoing battle between the FCC and Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who is determined to get his questions answered about the FCC’s waiver allowing LightSquared to use satellite spectrum for a wholesale terrestrial wireless network that could provide price and service competition to incumbents.

FCC staffers have made no secret of their belief that Grassley is on a witchhunt. In fact, the FCC’s new chief of staff reportedly called the senator to apologize after an unnamed commission staffer compared Grassley’s push for FCC documents on LightSquared to Sen. Joe McCarthy’s pursuit of communists.

Here’s a little FYI for the FCC: Grassley has also made it clear that he feels he is being dissed, and like it or not, he can, and likely will, hold up the nominations of Rosenworcel and Pai.

If the Republican presidential nominee emerges sooner than later, and there’s no break in the logjam over FCC appointments, there is the possibility that no action would be taken on those proposed FCC appointments, pending a possible new administration with their own telecom preferences.

Nothing about FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski indicates he is anything but a man of principle and integrity, so we can’t imagine there is some smoking gun in the emails and documents Grassley seeks on FCC contacts with the White House and others about LightSquared. The FCC chairman has declined to provide those documents on the grounds that the request did not come from the chair of the relevant committee. In this, however, the better part of valor might be to make an exception in the interests of transparency, disclosure and getting two more commissioners on board.

One argument against this action is a concern by some at the FCC that if they set this precedent, any of the 535 members of Congress can make the same request, sucking up person-power and time better spent on doing the nation’s telecom business.

The FCC can function with only three members. But this means that—with all due respect—two unelected bureaucrats could determine the fate of spectrum, broadband, content and multi-billion-dollar deals. It is time for Genachowski and Grassley to get in the same room and resolve their differences, or separate the issue from the nomination process it is needlessly impeding.