WASHINGTON -- Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa since April 27 has sought information from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would shed light into the process of the agency’s fast-tracking of the LightSquared broadband project. The agency has stonewalled his various requests. As a result, Grassley today put a statement in the Senate record stating that he will hold up the two pending nominees for commissioner positions at the agency when the nominations reach the Senate floor unless the agency begins to offer more information that will provide transparency into the public business it conducts.
Here is the text of Grassley’s statement in the record.
“Mr. President. I, Senator CHUCK GRASSLEY, intend to object to proceeding to the nomination of Jessica Rosenworcel and Ajit Pai to be commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission for the following reason.
“I will object to proceeding to the nomination because the FCC continues to stonewall a document request I submitted to the FCC over six months ago on April 27, 2011, regarding their actions related to LightSquared and Harbinger Capital. Since then, I have repeated my request to the FCC through letters I sent on July 5th and September 8th and the FCC continues to deny my request for documents.
“During the course of my correspondence with the FCC, the FCC has made it clear that it will not voluntarily turn over documents to the 99.6 percent of the Members of Congress and Senators who do not chair a committee with direct jurisdiction over the FCC. As I said in my September 8, 2011, letter, their actions are misguided and unsupportable.
“It not only sets a dangerous precedent for a federal agency to unilaterally set the rules on how it engages with Congress -- it also prevents any meaningful ability for the vast majority of Congress to inform themselves of how an agency works.
“Several months ago, I had to take similar action when I supported Senator Chambliss’ hold of James Cole’s nomination to be Deputy Attorney General in order to get documents from the Department of Justice. In the end, the documents we uncovered shed light on the Department’s actions regarding Operation Fast and Furious and the murder of Agent Brian Terry.
“I strongly believe that it is critical for Congress to have access to documents in order to conduct vigorous and independent oversight. It is unfortunate that this administration, which has pledged to be the most transparent in history, disagrees. As long as they continue to do so, I will be forced to take steps like this in order to ensure that Congress receives a complete picture of this administration’s actions.”
Grassley has pressed the FCC to explain why it decided to fast-track LightSquared’s licensing process amid a series of red flags. These include warnings that LightSquared’s interference with Global Positioning System (GPS) signals would cause major problems -- including risks to public safety in the case of aviation -- by jamming GPS use in precision farming, trucking, air travel, law enforcement, by the military and in general consumer navigation. Another concern is that the head of Harbinger, the hedge fund behind the project, told investors that his firm is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for allegations of market manipulation, according to media reports. The firm has been the subject of considerable media attention for losing large amounts of money and other controversies including whether the firm should have told investors in a timely fashion about a $113 million loan it extended to the principal of the firm.
Media reports also have quoted emails between LightSquared and senior White House aides, showing that LightSquared representatives cited political connections and friendships to get an audience with White House staff, including referring to a fund-raiser for the President. “Political connections don’t necessarily drive policy decisions, but in the absence of transparency at the FCC, it’s impossible to know one way or the other,” Grassley said. “The FCC’s refusal to make documents public continues to give the appearance that there’s something to hide."
Here is more detail on the nominees Grassley intends to hold when the nominations reach the Senate floor:
Nominee: Jessica Rosenworcel, of Connecticut, to be a Member of the Federal Communications Commission for a term of five years from July 1, 2010, vice Michael Joseph Copps, term expired. Received: November 01, 2011. Referred: Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Latest Action: November 01, 2011 - Received in the Senate and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
Nominee: Ajit Varadaraj Pai, of Kansas, to be a Member of the Federal Communications Commission for a term of five years from July 1, 2011, vice Meredith Attwell Baker, term expired. Received: November 01, 2011. Referred: Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Latest Action: November 01, 2011 - Received in the Senate and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
The details of Grassley’s inquiries to the FCC over LightSquared are available here