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Ness gets the nod

The White House granted FCC Commissioner Susan Ness an early Christmas present: her long-awaited recess appointment.

"I am honored that President Clinton has appointed me to serve a recess term at the FCC," said Ness.

How long Ness will get to continue remains to be seen. Recess appointments are temporary assignments permitted only when Congress is not in session. Intended to prevent critical government posts from going vacant, presidents often use them to fill a wide-variety of pending nominations that Congress ignores or refuses to consider. A recess appointee may keep a post for up to a year or until a permanent successor is confirmed.

So, as soon as George W. Bush is inaugurated, he could send the Senate a recommendation for her replacement, said Mark Buse, senior counsel for the Senate Commerce Committee, through which all FCC nominations must pass.

But it's unlikely the new administration will get around to filling the post very quickly. And, if her lobbying skills continue unabated, she may persuade the Bush Administration to let her stay on for another five-year-term as one of the FCC's two Democratic commissioners.

Observers say that's a long-shot, but it wouldn't be the first time Ness has defied conventional wisdom.

In fact, many lobbyists had written her political obituary after the Senate ignored her July 1999 nomination to a second full term and as the White House remained silent during the waning days of the session about Clinton's promise to give her a recess appointment if Congress failed to act.

As for Ness' prospects to another full term, going against her is the long-standing opposition of Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), who says FCC commissioners shouldn't get second terms. She also may have turned off many on the Hill by her behind-the-scenes, but aggressive lobbying effort to keep her job. Finally, she no longer has a powerful political patron, now that first lady Hillary Clinton is leaving the White House for a freshman Senate post.

But Ness also has important things going for her as well. She's worked hard at the job and is well regarded for her knowledge of telecommunications issues, and she can be an effective leader. Most notably she worked out a compromise between the warring industries over digital-TV standards. Also, Hillary Clinton, the Senator-elect, is a good to have in your corner.