FCC gets gender check

Vexed by the sudden realization that a remade FCC could raise charges of a gender gap, the Bush transition team is determined to add a GOP woman to the list of commissioner candidates, according to sources familiar with the search.

Adding a Republican woman to the panel virtually eliminates the chances that both men once thought to be front-runners for the two open GOP seats-Texas utility regulator Pat Wood and Bush campaign aide Kevin Martin-will be named to the commission.

The women reportedly at the top of the GOP list:

  • Rebecca Armendariz, previously an aide on the former Texas governor's policy staff, specializing in telecommunications, Mexican border issues and military affairs. She currently is working with Martin on the telecommunications transition team.
  • Janis Obuchowski, administrator for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration during the first Bush administration and a former FCC staffer. She runs an international communications consulting practice.
  • Kathleen Arbernathy, lobbyist for the Broadband Office and a former partner at Washington telcom law firm Wilkinson, Barker, Knauer. She also was a lobbyist for US West and an adviser to former FCC Chairman James Quello.
  • Sources say it's unclear which of the three is the leading candidate. Others said to have an outside shot are Lauren "Pete" Belvin, former aide to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain; Texas Public Utility Commissioner Judy Walsh; and Maria Cino, a staffer for the Republican National Committee.

The other GOP seat is said to be Wood's to turn down, but the chairman of the Texas Public Utility Commission hasn't said whether he will accept anything less than a position as an agency head. As a close ally of Bush, Wood once was rumored to be in the running to chair either the FCC or the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Both of the jobs went instead to incumbent GOP commissioners.

The picture for the open Democratic seat is becoming clearer.

Susan Ness, riding out a temporary appointment since her term expired in June 1999, acknowledged last week that she won't receive a permanent reappointment. She hasn't decided when she will step down but plans to stay long enough to allow a "smooth transition."

Senator Ernest Hollings and Representative John Dingell are vying to name Ness' replacement. Hollings is pushing Mike Copps, the Clinton Commerce Department's assistant trade secretary. Dingell is backing Andrew Levin, a key staffer in the drafting of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

The second Democratic seat, held by Gloria Tristani, may open up soon. Her term won't expire until June 2002, but many expect her to leave earlier, perhaps this summer.

Belo Corp. lobbyist Michael McCarthy also is said to have a long-shot chance at the job.