In a move that has alarmed telecom industry and congressional ethics watchdogs, a top aide to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin, has been assigned to the minority staff of a House comittee charged with overseeing the FCC. David Hatch from the National Journal has the skinny:
Ian Dillner, the chairman's legal adviser on wireless telecommunications issues, is listed as an aide to Martin on the FCC's Web site and continues to draw his salary from the commission.
But he recently began working for the minority staff of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet as a fill-in for minority counsel Courtney Reinhard, who is on maternity leave.
The presence of a Martin loyalist on the panel has raised eyebrows, especially since the timing coincides with a critical phase of the investigation. Over the next few months, the committee is expected to ratchet up its probe, which is largely focused on allegations that Martin used aggressive, even questionable, tactics to pursue his mostly deregulatory agenda.
"There is a whopping conflict of interest," said an industry source, expressing concern that Dillner could serve as a back-channel source of information to Martin, possibly by tipping him off to the focus of the inquiry and questions to be posed at upcoming hearings.
"To me, this is striking," said another industry source, adding that Martin effectively has a point man on the panel. This source and others said they feared retribution from Martin and would only speak anonymously.
The committee's investigation, formally announced January 8, 2008 is focused on the FCC's development of regulations over the telecommunications industry. In recent years, John Dingell (D-MI), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has expressed concern over a lack of transparency at the FCC, which he says is indicative of "a larger breakdown at the agency."