GOP lawmaker wants probe of White House support of LightSquared

Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's Strategic Forces subpanel, called Thursday for an investigation of whether the White House inappropriately intervened to support wireless startup LightSquared.

“In my capacity as a member of the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, I will be asking Chairman [Darrell] Issa [(R-Calif.)] and ranking member [Edolphus] Towns [(D-N.Y.)] to promptly investigate this matter,” Turner said at a subcommittee hearing Thursday.

ADVERTISEMENT

LightSquared plans to provide high-speed wholesale wireless service nationwide 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.

One of the major investors in LightSquared is prominent Democratic donor, Philip Falcone.

The Daily Beast reported Thursday that the White House asked Air Force Gen. William Shelton to alter his planned remarks to lawmakers and their staff in a secured briefing about LightSquared. 

According to the report, Shelton was pressured to change his testimony to show he supported the White House's policy to expand wireless broadband access and that the Pentagon would try to resolve the GPS interference issues with more testing within 90 days.

The Center for Public Integrity reported Wednesday that LightSquared sent emails to White House aides, at times mentioning its fundraising for Democrats and President Obama.

“We cannot afford to have federal telecommunication policy, especially where it affects national security, to be made in the same way this White House has parceled out a half billion dollars in loan guarantees to the failed Solyndra Corporation, a large political campaign contributor of the president,” Turner said, referring to the bankrupt solar firm that received government loans.

Both the White House and the Air Force deny any inappropriate pressure.

Eric Shultz, a White House spokesman, said the Office of Management and Budget, a White House agency, “reviews and clears all agency communications with Congress, including testimony, to ensure consistency in the Administration’s policy positions.”

It is not unusual, he said, for OMB to make suggestions about prepared testimony.

Kathleen Cook, a spokeswoman for the Air Force Space Command, said the process for reviewing testimony was followed appropriately.

“I can assure you Gen. Shelton’s testimony was his own, supported by and focused purely on documented tested results,” she said.

Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) questioned whether the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the agency responsible for advising the president on telecommunication issues, lobbied on behalf of LightSquared.

“I’ve been in politics for 14 years. I have never seen an agency advocate so strongly for something like this, unless there was pressure from above or a relationship that was not being disclosed,” he said. 

Although LightSquared has modified its proposal to mitigate the interference issues, witnesses at the the Armed Services hearing Thursday said the network would still interfere with military GPS devices.

The Federal Communications Commission issued a notice Tuesday requesting that LightSquared conduct more testing of its network. The FCC says it will not authorize LightSquared to move forward with its network until it fixes the GPS interference issues.

Turner said the FCC's statement that more testing of LightSquared is needed was the "understatement of the decade."

--Note: Rep. Turner incorrectly referred to Rep. Ed Towns (D-N.Y.) as the ranking member of the Oversight Committee. In fact, it is Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.)