FCC’s Powell braced for a grilling

Reg agency topper to testify in budget sesh

WASHINGTON — Federal Communications Commission topper Michael Powell can probably count on a tongue-lashing Thursday when he meets with Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), one of several Capitol Hill solons becoming suddenly disenchanted with Powell’s tenure.

Last week, Hollings went so far as to call Powell a “disaster,” saying the reg agency topper seemed all too eager to do away with key ownership rules governing the media biz. A year ago, Hollings had nothing but praise when President Bush nominated Powell to run the FCC.

Powell will be testifying Thursday on the FCC’s budget for the coming fiscal year.

Even some of Powell’s fellow Republicans are voicing criticism, including Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.). Speaking to a group of broadcasters late last month, Lott said the Senate would never again confirm an FCC chair or commissioners without doing a more detailed background check. (Lott didn’t mention Powell by name, but the implication was clear.)

Many have attributed Powell’s meteoric rise to being the son of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. The younger Powell worked briefly as an attorney in the private sector before joining the U.S. Dept. of Justice’s antitrust division. He left DOJ after about 18 months to serve as an FCC commissioner, a post he kept for three years before taking the chairman’s seat.

Seasoned political hands point out that the FCC has long been a whipping post of Congress, and that criticism comes with the job of running the reg agency, once the initial grace period ends.

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