Monday, September 19, 2011

LightSquared: Second witness says White House sought changes to his testimony

From the Daily Beast:
First it was a four-star general, and now a federal agency official says the White House sought changes to his testimony on a wireless project tied to a prominent Democratic donor....

The issue of LightSquared and the White House OMB’s [Office of Management and Budget's] interest in testimony came to light last week... Gen. William Shelton, the four-star general in charge of the Air Force Space Command, told House lawmakers in a classified briefing that he felt pressured by the White House to change his testimony on LightSquared. [The testimony pertained to the company's proposed network of satellites and land-based cell towers which Pentagon officials fear could interfere with sensitive military GPS systems. The White House OMB urged Shelton to testify before the House oversight committee that he anticipated testing for GPS and LightSquared interference would take only 90 days.]

Shelton ultimately rejected the White House suggestions and delivered his own testimony last week...

On Monday, a second witness, Anthony Russo, director of the National Coordination Office for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing, told The Daily Beast that he too was asked by the OMB to insert the 90-day timeframe into his testimony before the House Science Committee, but he refused...

Russo said he objected to [the White House's request] because “I have low confidence that we can complete all of the testing in 90 days.” He estimated that such testing would take at least six months...

House Republicans now want to know whether LightSquared has received special treatment because Falcone [who owns a majority financial stake in the company] and his wife have made tens of thousands of dollars in contributions in the last few years to the Democratic party. [LightSquared’s CEO Sanjiv Ahuja also contributed $30,000 to the DNC in September 2010.]...

Harold Furchtgott-Roth, a former Republican-appointed FCC commissioner, said it was highly unusual to put a timeline on [these] kinds of technical tests...

“Primarily these types of tests sometimes have a finite end and sometimes they don’t,” he said. “Sometimes they go on for long periods of time. To pick a number and say the tests have to end by a certain date is not consistent with commission precedent. Secondly, you don’t know what you will find when you do the test; you can’t predetermine that you will absolutely be finished after 90 days.”

Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), the chairman of the House Science Committee’s subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, said he was troubled that four out of the five government witnesses before his Sept. 8 hearing had “identical language in their written testimony reflecting the administration’s view of the LightSquared project. The language diminished the otherwise blunt assessments the witnesses articulated during the hearing when pressed by committee members.”...

Furchtgott-Roth questioned the process by which the FCC granted a waiver to LightSquared so that it may use its initial license for satellite bandwidth to service terrestrial mobile devices.

“In January the commission said LightSquared could use its license for exclusive terrestrial purposes,” he said. “That decision from January was an unprecedented and surprising development. That they would make this decision at the bureau level and not at the full commission level is just stunning.”
See earlier post for more detailed information on LightSquared and the Philip Falcone/White House connection.