GOP lawmaker upset over FCC chairman’s decision to not testify

The head of the Federal Communications Commission came under fire Thursday from a GOP lawmaker for not testifying at a committee hearing.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, a frequent target of Republicans who opposed his net-neutrality regulations, was criticized by Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the Armed Services Committee's Strategic Forces subpanel, for choosing to send a subordinate to a Thursday hearing.

"I consider the chairman’s failure to show up today to be an affront to the House Armed Services Committee,” Turner said. “Personally, I believe this is an absolute effort by the chairman to avoid the oversight questions by Congress."

The Armed Services Committee’s website had listed Genachowski as a witness for days for the hearing, which examined the FCC’s decision to issue a conditional waiver to wireless start-up LightSquared.

Julius Knapp, chief of the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology, testified instead of Genachowski.

An FCC spokeswoman in a public statement said Knapp was a more appropriate choice because of this technical expertise.

"We received an invitation from the subcommittee for the chairman or his designee to testify," said Tammy Sun, the spokeswoman. "As this hearing is focused on technical issues, our expectation had always been that Julius Knapp ... would be the most appropriate witness to testify to respond to any questions members may have about interference issues pertaining to LightSquared."

Sun said Genachowski never refused to testify. "To the contrary, the committee explicitly told FCC staff that they would accept a designee. We are pleased that our top technical expert was able to respond to questions today," she said.

A source close to Genachowski took a shot at Turner, saying the lawmaker knew Genachowski hadn't refused to testify.

"At no point did [Genachowski] refuse to testify and Chairman Turner knows it," the source said. "It is a flat-out lie to score a few cheap political points."

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), the subcommittee's ranking member, said she was not offended by Genachowski's absence.

"I'm not really concerned, Mr. Chairman, about Chairman Genachowski not being before our committee today," she said. "I think you and I had a very good meeting with him last week and he stated some of the reasons why he really didn't want to be before our committee today."

LightSquared plans to provide wholesale broadband wireless service through a network of satellites and land-based cell towers, but tests earlier this year revealed it interferes with GPS devices, including those used by the military.

Genachowski has said the FCC will not allow LightSquared to move forward until it resolves the interference issues.

—This story was posted at 1:32 p.m. and updated at 6:02 p.m.