News broke this afternoon that President Bush will nominate White House advisor Richard Russell and Director Deborah Taylor Tate of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority to the FCC. I know nothing of Mr. Russell and something of Debi and therefore will limit these comments to her (potential/pending/likely?) nomination.
Debi will be good for the Commission and the Administration won't likely be disappointed. She is amply qualified and has a variety of public sector experiences. She has worked for Governor (now Senator) Alexander and Governor Sundquist in legal and policy roles. Debi spearheaded the use of statistical mapping to improve Tennessee's juvenile justice system. Perhaps this portends good omens for USF reform - she succeeded by reforming entrenched bureaucratic interests through the use of data and technology to target services to those in need.
Debi also maintains a close relationship with the public policy institute at Vanderbilt after working there for a couple years before her appointment to the TRA. (WARNING: Self-Serving Sentence to Follow.) As a result, I have found she - much more so that the typical state regulator - has shown a keen interest and appreciation for the value brought to the policy debate by academics and think tanks.
Despite these experiences, I suspect that if (when) confirmed, Commissioner Tate will be shocked at the level of lobbying and viciousness that comes with owning turf on the "8th Floor". No shrinking violet and certainly not naive in the ways of Washington, I worry for my friend from Tennessee in light of the great challenges before the Commission and Congress. Despite her calm manner and training as a mediator, it won't be long before "friends" call into question her loyalty, intelligence or motives when she votes "against" their point of view. This is as inevitable as it is sad.
The nomination of Deborah Taylor Tate to the Commission signals the Administration's seriousness about staying the course in the difficult transition from intensive economic regulation toward a healthy digital communications marketplace. Director Tate has been leader in Tennesee - for example, as Chairman she was quick to identify the importance of VoIP and the challenges it presents - and among her peers. Surely the addition of Debi's voice to the Commission will strengthen ongoing efforts to properly limit the reach of regulation.
Early this week, Chairman Martin addressed the annual NARUC meeting. He outlined three broad areas of work for the Commission: broadband, universal service and interconnection. He'll need help to make headway on these issues and with Debi Tate on board, I believe we'll all be better off.