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Grassley, Rockefeller Clash Over FCC Probe

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Chuck Grassley (above) has gotten into a turf war with Sen. Jay Rockefeller over Grassley’s attempts to investigate LightSquared and the FCC.

In a bit of a Senatorial hostage situation, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is blocking an aide of Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s (D-W.Va.) from a new job on the Federal Communications Commission while Rockefeller is trying to block a Grassley-led investigation into a struggling mobile broadband company.

The dispute is over Grassley’s investigation into LightSquared and the FCC’s initial approval of its plans for a satellite-based mobile Internet network. Grassley has also requested documents from several companies that manufacture GPS devices.

According to Grassley, the two Senators remain personally cordial, but their staffs have battled over jurisdictional issues. As chairman of the Commerce Committee, Rockefeller has jurisdiction over broadcast spectrum. Grassley does not sit on Commerce.

Recently, however, Grassley’s office made an unusual accommodation to the GPS companies in what his office said was an attempt to thwart Rockefeller from tracking his investigation.

The LightSquared-GPS matter is a long-running dispute pitting the Defense Department, a group of Republican lawmakers and the GPS industry against the White House, Federal Communications Commission and LightSquared.

Rockefeller’s office declined to comment for this story, but Grassley’s office offered an account of the ongoing turf war.

Grassley has for months questioned why the FCC initially approved LightSquared’s plan to use satellite spectrum adjacent to that used by GPS devices despite warnings from the GPS makers and the military that the plan could cause interference for GPS devices.

But the FCC has declined to respond to his requests, noting that as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, he does not have jurisdiction over the commission.

The FCC recently proposed to rescind LightSquared’s approval, and the company has discussed taking the issue to court if that decision is made final. But Grassley is still trying to get to the bottom of how the company obtained approval in the first place.

For leverage, Grassley placed a hold on two of President Barack Obama’s nominees to the FCC, one of whom, Jessica Rosenworcel, is a Rockefeller aide.

Grassley’s demand? That Rockefeller request documents from the FCC on his behalf.

But Rockefeller has refused to ask for the documents from the FCC, and staff-level negotiations in late February resulted in no progress.

Grassley said he hadn’t discussed the matter with Rockefeller personally in months. About the conflict, he said, “It’s nothing personal. He treats me as a gentleman; hopefully I treat him as a gentleman.”

“This is a jurisdictional fight,” said Melanie Sloan, president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “Grassley is asking for documents that fall under Rockefeller’s jurisdiction.”

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