According to an outside consultant working for phone giant SBC, the amount of information being collected by federal agencies for the approval of its merger with AT&T is far and away the most proprietary information they have ever had to surrender to the government.
“There something else going on here,” says the consultant. “The type of material they are asking for, about deployment of resources, customer ethnic background, that isn’t the type of material the FCC has looked at in the past. It’s almost like the career staff there is taking advantage of a situation to get at material they otherwise might not be able to request.”
It isn’t that some of this data isn’t useful to a professional staff attempting to approve a merger of two large companies that serve a diverse set of consumers, says the consultant. It’s the amount of material the FCC is asking for. “This is the kind of material that could be used by professional staff for studies in any number of areas that could be embarrassing to companies, industries and individuals,” says the consultant.
More so than even in some of the critical Cabinet-level departments, such as State, Justice and Defense, Republican appointees to commissions have been shocked at the influence of professional staff working at such places as the FCC, SEC, even the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
For example, professional staff at the SEC regularly bulldozed outgoing chairman William Donaldson. Instead of blocking policy that might prove harmful to investors or Wall Street through the commission, Donaldson allowed staff — largely Democratic — to sidestep the commission and implement policy changes through rule-making procedures that didn’t require a vote.
Donaldson’s seeming disdain for getting into political fights with staff was one reason he was pushed out of his job earlier than he preferred, and will be replaced by Rep. Christopher Cox, a well-known control freak, who won’t allow staff to slip anything by him.
“These federal commissions are just as political as anything else in Washington,” says a GOP lawyer, who has done work before the Federal Election Commission. “The staff can under some circumstances ask for just about anything it needs from companies and individuals. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are overly zealous commission staff culling documents for ammo against Republicans to be used down the road.”p> PAVED WITH BAD INTENTIONS br> The past couple of weeks haven’t been good ones for the White House, at least in its dealings with outside groups. /p>
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