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Guest Columnists

Regulatory News Roundup

FCC Chairman Michael Powell has created a team of agency officials to review the proposed merger of the two largest U.S. satellite TV companies, the Dish Network and DirecTV. He said that given "the significant concentration that would result from this transaction, it will be rigorously scrutinized by this team and the commission."

Powell's team will be headed by Kenneth Ferree, chief of the Cable Services Bureau. The chairman noted that -- in an effort to speed up consideration of the deal -- the team was assembled even before the agency received the companies' merger application. He expressed confidence the review will be "thorough, fair and timely."

EchoStar, which runs the Dish Network, has reached an agreement to buy GM's Hughes Electronics, which owns DirecTV, for $25.8 billion.

Critics claim the merger would give control of 90 percent of the digital satellite TV market to a single company. But proponents say consumers would benefit because satellite TV would be better able to compete with cable firms. EchoStar estimates the merger would save the combined companies $5 billion a year by 2005.

A lawsuit filed by business groups asserts that ergonomic regulations written by Washington state's Department of Labor and Industries place an enormous burden on employers and produce questionable worker benefits. The suit also challenges the effectiveness of ergonomic techniques contained in the regulations -- which are set to become law July 1, 2002.

Businesses in the slate contend the rules will cost them $725 million a year, while the department puts that cost at $80 million. President Tom McCabe of the Building Industry Association of Washington accuses the department of abusing its power by "pushing through a rule based on political agendas."

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has introduced a bill to outlaw most forms of Internet gambling, a fast-growing and unregulated industry he said "sucks billions of dollars out of the U.S. economy each year and costs tens of thousands ofjobs." The measure is supported by U.S. gaming and lottery interest groups, which consider Internet gambling a threat to the integrity and well-being of the highly regulated gambling industry.

Goodlatte pointed out that most gambling Web sites operate off-shore, where they are "unlicensed, untaxed and unregulated." He said Internet gambling also serves as a "vehicle for money laundering activities, and can be exploited by terrorists to launder money."

The SEC has a new enforcement director: Steven Cutler, who held the job in an acting capacity since July. He succeeds Richard Walker, who departed for the private sector. Cutler's permanent appointment was announced by SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt, a nominee of President Bush who was confirmed by the Senate in August.

The 40-year-old Cutler -- who had been deputy enforcement director since January 1999 -- was a partner in the Washington law firm of Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering before going to the commission. He has a degree from Yale Law School, where he edited the law journal.

Pitt also announced the appointment of Brian Gross to a new SEC position -- director of communications. Gross is an aide to Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) and counsel to the Senate Banking Committee.

Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) has introduced a bill that would allow the government to more fully adopt many private sector practices. It would streamline the government hiring process in an effort to attract and retain employees. The measure also urges agency heads to identify laws and regulations that present them from effectively managing their agencies. And it requires Congress to consider the quick repeal of such burdensome requirements.

The ranking Republican on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, Thompson said it is critical -- especially in the wake of the Sept. l1 terrorist attacks -- to recruit and keep highly qualified government workers. "I think it's important because government has suffered from lack of management for decades, and now we're reaping the harvest for a lot of it -- even with regards to matters of national security," he added.

By Don Fulsom, Former UPI White House Correspondent