Edward Lazarus, the chief of staff to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, will create a job opening next month when he leaves his position on Jan. 31, prompting a talent search for his successor inside and outside the agency.
If you feel like you’ve heard that already, it may be because Lazarus’s departure has been the topic of speculation and rumors for months, but the chatter was short on substance until now, according to Lazarus. He told reporters on Monday that that he has not chosen his next gig yet.
Chief of staff is always a powerful role, but Lazarus was all the more influential because Genachowski relied on him heavily. Lazarus was the chairman’s main go-between for discussions with the top lobbyists at stakeholder firms, and he convened sensitive negotiations on divisive policy topics, including network neutrality. Genachowski’s point of contact with firms is higher-level, according to those familiar with his preferences, and is generally the CEO.
To ensure his job hunt has clean optics, Lazarus deliberately chose not to consider opportunities in industry while at the FCC, he said.
“It is particular to this office and to the chief of staff role that your job-related conversations just become immediately complicated,” he said. “[This is] the right way to do it.”
Meredith Attwell Baker, a Republican commissioner, weathered criticism when she joined Comcast this year straight from her FCC seat.
But Lazarus said that his policy is “not a criticism” of Baker, and that “every person has to make their own judgment.” Baker and Lazarus are family friends from before their FCC days.
Lazarus came to the commission two years ago with no agency background, jumping in with staff and lobbyists who live and breathe telecom. “There are many things I would’ve handled differently,” he said.
Lazarus saw Genachowski through an early tenure marked by bumpy patches. They were criticized as being not aggressive enough, a reputation possibly shed by the unexpected and bold move to fight the AT&T merger.
Would the FCC have fought the mega-deal when Lazarus was still a telecom newbie?
“I think the chairman’s vision of a competitive [wireless industry] … would’ve been consistent whenever it came up in his tenure,” Lazarus said.
“The single most important part of my job was making the chairman’s office accessible and open to anyone who had a stake in the outcome—industry, consumers, everyone. We opened up the chairman’s office both in terms of in-person meetings and the kind of comment process we ran through the website,” he said.
Lazarus and his policymaking process, in a rare development for the FCC, made national news when he held closed-door meetings on the controversial issue of net neutrality with Verizon, Google, and others. Consumer groups ranted about the exclusion, but the criticism didn't stick.