By Marty Stern
With Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski and Commissioner Robert McDowell announcing their departures, we have received many questions on the terms and tenures of the FCC Commissioners. Here, we provide in one place, a “TMT Cheat Sheet” that will help you fill your own brackets for the FCC Commissioners.
First, a little background. Under the Communications Act, the FCC has five Commissioners, with one designated as the Chairman by the President and with no more than three from the same political party. So not surprisingly, the Chairman and majority of the Commissioners are typically from the President’s party.
Commissioners are appointed for five-year terms, except when an appointee fills out the unexpired term of a predecessor. In that case, the Commissioner only gets appointed for the balance of the predecessor’s term. This is why one cannot just go to the FCC website’s Commissioner page, look at the date of appointment, and know when a Commissioner’s term expires.
For the current Commission, for example, Chairman Genachowski was appointed to complete the term of former Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein when he joined the Rural Utilities Service, and the Chairman’s term expires on June 30, 2013. Here are the terms of the remaining Commissioners:
- McDowell (R): Exp. June 30, 2014
- Clyburn (D): Exp. June 30, 2017
- Rosenworcel (D): Exp. June 30, 2015
- Pai (R): Exp. June 30, 2016
Upon resignation of the Chairman and Commissioner McDowell, the Commission will have three sitting members, but will retain a Democratic majority. According to reports, this was one reason the Chairman waited for Commissioner McDowell, a Republican, to announce his resignation before the Chairman, a Democrat, announced his own.
An FCC Commissioner’s term does not really expire when it expires. Rather, the Communications Act allows a Commissioner to serve past the end of his or her term until a replacement is appointed and confirmed. So a holdover Commissioner, unless reappointed, can serve until the end of the Congress following the one in which his or her term expired.
Information on FCC nominations and Commissioner terms are available on Thomas, the online database of Congressional documents, through a site that tracks presidential nominations. The site can be searched both by nominee name and by nomination number. The entry includes information on when the Commissioner was nominated and confirmed, the expiration of his or term, and whether the Commissioner was appointed to fill the unexpired term of a former Commissioner and who that was. The entry also includes other interesting information, such as how long between receipt of the nomination by the Senate and confirmation.