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FCC Chairman Watch

With Michael Powell’s departure from the Federal Communications Commission imminent, Beltway speculation about his successor as chairman is reaching fever pitch.

Sitting Republican Commission Kevin Martin is widely regarded as the front-runner, but a dark-horse rival for the job is Michael Gallagher, currently head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
NTIA, unlike the FCC, is an arm of the White House and is charged with advising the administration on telecom policy and overseeing defense and other government communications spectrum. The FCC commissioners, on the other hand, cast votes independent of White House wishes and primarily oversee commercial uses of the airwaves, such as TV and phone service.
Gallagher’s name had dropped from the short list of contenders months ago but ex-Secretary of Commerce Don Evans (his former boss), is pushing President Bush to keep him in the race. Gallagher, a former wireless industry lobbyist, also has strong backing from his old industry.
 Martin still is the heavy favorite, in part because he doesn’t need another confirmation to become chairman and he could take the top post as soon as Powell exits. Martin also has close ties to the White House: he was a Bush 2000 campaign lawyer and his wife Catherine is spokeswoman for Vice President Cheney.
 Gallagher’s appointment would take a least a month, if not more, because he would have to win Senate confirmation to the FCC.
A Gallagher appointment would probably doom chances that Earl Comstock will fill one of the two FCC openings available shortly. If Gallagher is appointed, the other opening—made possible by Republican Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy’s expected exits—will most likely be filled by Rebecca Klein, a former Texas utility regulator. Comstock is a former aide to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens and his old boss is lobbying on his behalf for one of the open commissioner slots.