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And Then There Were 5

Chairman Wheeler & Comm. O’Rielly
Wheeler ORielly
Senator Cruz finally decided last night that the Senate could do its business and graciously allowed a vote on the confirmation of Tom Wheeler, President Obama’s choice for the next chairman of FCC which was paired, as is custom for the past decade or so, with the confirmation of Republican senate staffer Michael P. O’Rielly. Variety reported that O’Rielly, who has worked for Congress for 20 years, is currently an adviser to Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the Republican minority whip. He previously was a staffer for Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) and for the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Thus for the first time since May the FCC is back to 5 commissioners. Congratulations to both newcomers!

Most nominees to most federal regulatory commissions have been former Senate staffers in the past decade or 2. This is probably a way to break the partisan deadlock by picking nominees known to the confirming body. Former Senate staffers are usually great people, but at some point the body politic should contemplate whether their over representation in regulatory agencies, to the exclusion of those with other backgrounds, is really a good idea.

This is not to say there are not Senate staffers with credentials that have been lacking with FCC appointees in recent memory. For example, former Senate staffer Peter B. Lyons has a CalTech doctorate and was a commissioner at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He now serves at DOE as Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy. We just haven’t seen this type of appointment at FCC in memory even though FCC has significant technical jurisdiction.

Note that FCC has yet to have any commissioner from either party who has actually worked in Silicon Valley in either a technical or nontechnical capacity. However, there have been lots with a broadcast background.
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