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Ness Gets Recess Renewal

WASHINGTON -President Clinton has given Federal Communications Commission member Susan Ness a recess appointment that will allow the Democrat to continue to serve, perhaps until next fall.

"I am honored President Clinton has appointed me to serve a recess term at the [FCC]," Ness said in a prepared statement on Dec. 18. Democrats hold a 3-2 edge at the agency. Although Ness's term expired last year, she was allowed to remain while the Senate considered a five-year reappointment.

The White House statement said the FCC's business would be "greatly hindered" were one of the five commissioners missing. Clinton is entitled to make such appointments after Congress adjourns.

When he takes office, President Bush is supposedly entitled to replace Ness with his own candidate, a move that would require Senate confirmation. But an agency source said the Constitution seemed to make it clear that Ness could remain until the end of the next Congress' first session.

Meanwhile, FCC chairman William Kennard is apparently in no rush to jump ship as Clinton makes plans to turn over the reins of government to the new GOP administration.

"The chairman is committed to ensuring that there is an orderly transition to a new administration, and then he will evaluate his future plans," an agency spokeswoman said. However, industry sources said Kennard has put out word that he plans to step down soon after Bush takes office.

Although Kennard's term expires next June, Bush can replace him immediately with Republican FCC commissioner Michael Powell. Powell, viewed as the frontrunner to replace Kennard, could serve as acting chairman while awaiting Senate confirmation.

FCC chairmen who are replaced typically leave the agency rather than serve out the unexpired portion of their terms.

"It could be completed pretty quickly because Commissioner Powell knows the agency pretty well," the FCC spokeswoman said.

FCC Cable Services Bureau chief Deborah Lathen has said she won't head for the private sector until after the FCC completes action on the merger between America Online Inc. and Time Warner Inc.

"My sole focus and concentration right now is on focusing on the AOL-Time Warner merger," Lathen said. "After I finish that merger, I will have to focus my attention on my next career steps."