Colin Powell's likely nomination as U.S. secretary of state--he met with Bush at the latter's Texas ranch Thursday to discuss that very subject--would affect the technology industry in that the senior Powell would have to surrender his seat on America Online's board. But his son would have much more of an impact in the FCC chairman's post.
The next FCC chairman will preside over critical rulings affecting the telecommunications and Internet landscape. Already under way is an examination of whether cable and other high-speed Internet providers should allow access to competing Internet service providers. In other initiatives launched by the commission and in its implementation of laws that could be passed by Congress, the FCC will have influence over virtually every New Economy company.
The selection of Powell is contingent on Bush surviving the court challenge to his certification in Florida. Whichever party is in the White House gets to name the FCC chairman and install three of the five commissioners from that party.
There has been no word from the Gore camp concerning who might be chairman in that administration. One possibility would be to retain the current chairman, William Kennard, a Democrat.
Michael Powell has served as an FCC commissioner for just over three years and is one of two Republicans on the five-member board. While he has developed a reputation as a strong advocate of market forces over government regulation, he has differed from his GOP colleague Harold Furchtgott-Roth in that he has sought to work with the three Democrats at the commission to craft compromise rules.
"He's a uniter," said one telecom lobbyist who declined to be named. "He'll forge consensus with other commissioners but work with Congress better than Kennard."
Kennard took over the FCC three years ago, after serving several years as the agency's general counsel, and quickly began drawing fire from congressional leaders. Most of his critics have been Republicans, but the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Commerce Committee, John Dingell, has had harsh words for Kennard's leadership as well.
Unlike executive-branch agencies such as the Justice or Commerce departments, the FCC is an independent agency that answers directly to Congress.
The appointment of Powell as chairman is as uncertain as Bush's assumption of the presidency. There are some rumors in Washington that Powell may become the assistant attorney general for antitrust at the Justice Department. He previously worked in that office as its chief of staff.
Another possibility is that Bush would appoint Pat Wood, chairman of the Texas Public Utility Commission (PUC), to head the FCC. However, the consensus among Washington insiders is that Powell will move up to the FCC chairman post because Wood will be joining the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), possibly as chairman.
"I have not had any discussions regarding any potential positions with the governor or his folks," Wood said Thursday. "I have not indicated to anyone (including the Bush team) that I would prefer FERC over the FCC or that I would prefer anything at all."
Wood added that his term as PUC chairman extends through next August, and his focus right now is on that job and on his 7-week-old baby.
The Bush transition team declined to comment. Powell was traveling to the Western Cable 2000 show and couldn't be reached.
Yet another scenario that has been tossed around Washington has Powell assuming the chairmanship of the FCC and Wood joining as a commissioner. Then, when Powell's term expires in two years, Wood would step up to the chairman's job. While at least one highly placed source has pitched this scenario, it seems to have been replaced recently with the idea of placing Wood at FERC.
Powell headed the FCC's task force on the Year 2000 problem and currently is heading an agencywide investigation of leaks to media and lobbyists driven largely by sensitive materials that have slipped out of the AOL-Time Warner investigation.
Like his father, Powell served in the U.S. Army. His career ended as a cavalry platoon leader in Germany when he was seriously injured in a training accident and was hospitalized for a year.