U.S. Senator Charles Grassley said he would place a hold on two nominees to the Federal Communications Commission because the agency hasn’t answered questions about Philip Falcone’s proposed LightSquared wireless service.
“The FCC continues to stonewall a document request I submitted” in April, Grassley said in a statement submitted today to the Senate record, according to a copy e-mailed by the Iowa Republican’s office. He said he would object to the Oct. 31 nominations of Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, and Ajit Pai, a Republican, to serve at the five-member agency.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski told Grassley in a July 26 letter that the agency doesn’t respond to congressional document requests unless they come from committee chairmen, according to a copy of the letter the senator released. “What is the FCC hiding?” Grassley said in an e-mail the following day.
The FCC’s withholding of documents “sets a dangerous precedent for a federal agency to unilaterally set the rules on how it engages with Congress,” Grassley, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said today. “It is critical for Congress to have access to documents in order to conduct vigorous and independent oversight.”
Grassley said on July 5 the FCC may have deliberately ignored his request for information about LightSquared, which makers and users of global-positioning system devices say may disrupt navigation equipment on aircraft, boats, tractors and automobiles. The wholesale wireless service would operate on airwaves formerly reserved mainly for used by satellites, and near those used by GPS.
LightSquared, backed by Falcone’s Harbinger Capital Partners hedge fund, won tentative assent from the FCC in January, and is seeking final approval after pledging steps toward resolving interference concerns. Federal officials are overseeing additional tests.
Grassley in his April 27 letter to Genachowski said U.S. regulators may not have considered all points of view before the January approval. He called the FCC’s procedures “a curious set of circumstances” and asked for copies of e-mails to and from Falcone. Genachowski in a May 31 reply said the FCC “has proceeded in an open, thorough, and fair way.”
The FCC has operated with four members since a Republican resignation in May. The term of Democrat Michael Copps has expired, and he can serve until this session of Congress concludes near the end of the year. His departure without new arrivals would leave the agency with two Democrats and one Republican.
The agency can operate “indefinitely” with three or four members, with orders passing by majority vote, Andrew Lipman, a Washington-based partner with Bingham McCutchen LLP, said in an interview.
Neil Grace, an FCC spokesman, declined to comment. Terry Neal, a spokesman for Reston, Virginia-based LightSquared, in an e-mailed statement said, “This is a matter between Senator Grassley and the FCC.”