Did an FCC official do work for PBS simultaneously?

There are two interesting stories centered on “FCC: Survivor” this morning, and we’ll roll them up into a single post.  First, the House has followed through on its threat to restrain the commission from enforcing authority in a jurisdiction Congress never granted it.  An amendment to the continuing resolution passed last night that bars funds from being used to enforce Julius Genachowski’s “Open Internet” rules:

The House passed an amendment Thursday that would bar the Federal Communications Commission from using any funding to implement the network-neutrality order it approved in December.

The amendment, approved on a 244-181 vote, was offered by Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., to legislation that would fund government agencies for the rest of fiscal year 2011.

They’re also working on Plan B in parallel.  On Wednesday, Walden introduced a Congressional Review Act measure that would allow Congress to strike the Open Internet regulations altogether.  The two efforts will work on separate tracks, although both would be subject to stalling or opposition in the Senate.  Either way, Congress has signaled its intent to pull the reins hard on regulatory adventurism in the Obama administration.

But that’s not the only adventurism one can find at the FCC, or at least that one could have found before January 7 of this year.  That was the last day of employment for Yul Kwon, the former deputy chief of consumer and government affairs at the FCC.  According to Cecilia Kang at the Washington Post, Kwon — who won a million dollars on the CBS show “Survivor” in 2006 and had been with CNN and Discovery in between — went back into show business with PBS, hosting its new show “America Revealed,” which PBS announced two days after Kwon left the FCC.  Prior to his departure, Kwon’s wife gave birth to their daughter Genevie in late September.

That’s where this gets interesting.  PBS, of course, is a regulated entity who has to answer to the FCC.  According to the law governing the FCC, no one employed by the FCC can work for or have any significant relation to an entity or person regulated by the commission, emphases mine:

(A) No member of the Commission or person employed by the Commission shall—
(i) be financially interested in any company or other entity engaged in the manufacture or sale of telecommunications equipment which is subject to regulation by the Commission;
(ii) be financially interested in any company or other entity engaged in the business of communication by wire or radio or in the use of the electromagnetic spectrum;
(iii) be financially interested in any company or other entity which controls any company or other entity specified in clause (i) or clause (ii), or which derives a significant portion of its total income from ownership of stocks, bonds, or other securities of any such company or other entity; or
(iv) be employed by, hold any official relation to, or own any stocks, bonds, or other securities of, any person significantly regulated by the Commission under this chapter;
except that the prohibitions established in this subparagraph shall apply only to financial interests in any company or other entity which has a significant interest in communications, manufacturing, or sales activities which are subject to regulation by the Commission.

When did Kwon actually start working for the PBS and filming the show?  That’s an interesting question.  Let’s take a look at the PBS release again, shall we, and the caption on the photo:

AMERICA REVEALED host Yul Kwon at La Tomatina en Reno, America’s biggest tomato fight

When exactly is “America’s biggest tomato fight”? If you’d guess it wouldn’t happen in the dead of winter, you’d be right. La Tomatina en Reno took place in August 2010 at the Club Cal-Neva in Reno.  If Kwon was there on vacation, then that would be fine — but the implication is that Kwon was there as part of his America Revealed duties, while still employed by the FCC.  The picture doesn’t look like an average family snapshot, either.  Photo credit goes to Jeff Ross, a photographer whose Google link describes him as “an advertising studio shooting commercial, industrial and editorial photo assignments in Reno, Las Vegas, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Phoenix and San Diego.”

Let’s take a look at December as well.  On December 11, photographer Jason Savage posted some work he was doing for PBS on a new show called … America Revealed.  And guess whose picture he took while out in Montana for the new show?  Yul Kwon, standing under an old airway beacon far away from Washington DC:

Last week I was freezing my #[email protected] off photographing  an airway beacon on the continental divide in Montana and like usual, the wind was relentless. PBS is producing a new show, America Revealed that will be airing sometime next year. Part of the show features tranportation in America and for this portion they were featuring Montana’s old airway beacons that are still in operation. Back in the 30′s gas powered airway beacons were lined arcross the country to help pilots navigate their way, specifically the U.S. Mail planes. Year’s later most all of the country had abandoned these antique beacons,with Montana deciding to keep them in operation and maintain them across the state. Local pilots still use them for navigation in the mountains and they are an interesting remenant of aviation’s past.

It looks to be an interesting show and as always it’s a pleasure to be involved with anything PBS is doing. Yul Kwon is the host which some will remember from his victory on Survivor/Cook Islands.

Nor does that appear to be the only work Kwon was doing between August and December, as a look at his Twitter feed indicates:

  • Flying over Dallas in Cessna, taking pics of the roads to analyze congestion. They do everything big in Texas, including road construction. 11:10 AM Dec 10th, 2010 via ÜberTwitter from Addison, TX
  • Flying over Los Angeles with Commander Chuck, traffic reporter for Ryan Seacrest’s show. Wish I could avoid gridlock in a helicopter… 10:44 AM Dec 7th, 2010 via ÜberTwitter from here
  • At National Finals Rodeo in Vegas. 175K people. Felt out of place, didn’t see many Korean cowboys. Local govt awesome at managing traffic. 9:36 PM Dec 3rd, 2010 via ÜberTwitter from Paradise, NV
  • The biggest mass transporation system in America? School buses. 26 million trips a day. Here in Kingman, AZ, they drive 3 mil miles a year. 12:09 PM Dec 2nd, 2010 via ÜberTwitter from Kingman, AZ
  • Cold morning in Helena, MT (20 below freezing). Will learn why they need gas beacons to navigate planes here. Losing feeling in my thumbs. 5:39 AM Nov 30th, 2010 via ÜberTwitter from Helena Valley Northeast, MT
  • Just interviewed head of FAA, Randy Babbitt, about NextGen air system, which will reduce air traffic delays by 40%. Can’t wait to see it. 10:15 AM Nov 23rd, 2010 via ÜberTwitter from Washington Mall, Washington
  • Ok, bad hint. Better hint: I was on top of a skyscraper in NYC that’s named after a wealthy politician. http://plixi.com/p/57863857 9:07 AM Nov 19th, 2010 via ÜberTwitter from New York, NY
  • Guess where I’m shooting this at. Hint: I think I need dramamine. http://plixi.com/p/57862189 8:56 AM Nov 19th, 2010 via ÜberTwitter from New York, NY
  • At FAA’s command center which coordinates all air travel. Huge video screens tracking 5000 flights. If only they showed football games! 10:29 AM Nov 18th, 2010 via ÜberTwitter from Hunter Mill, VA
  • At giant rail yard in Chicago, learning why American trains are so good at moving freight, not so much at moving people. 12:03 PM Nov 10th, 2010 via ÜberTwitter from here
  • In NYC finishing first episode on how America produces food. Am delivering pizzas on bike for Dominos. Feel like a giant target for taxis. 2:48 PM Oct 21st, 2010 via ÜberTwitter from Tribeca, New York
  • In Detroit harvesting at urban farm. Farmer is helping inner city dwellers get fresh food and reduce blight. Amazing story of urban renewal. 2:31 PM Sep 18th, 2010 via Twitter for BlackBerry®
  • Just went flying in a Boeing Stearman biplane from the ’30s. Amazing! Felt like I was Snoopy’s WWI flying ace riding in his Sopwith Camel. 9:49 AM Sep 16th, 2010 via web from Garden City, KS
  • 2nd jump had probs. Guy strapped on my back got too excited and-in director’s words-dominated every scene. Not sure who was more humiliated. 12:33 PM Sep 14th, 2010 via ÜberTwitter from Garden City, KS
  • Just did my first jump. How embarassing. Hoped to give a manly roar, but ended up screaming like a baby. Here we go on the second try… 9:21 AM Sep 14th, 2010 via ÜberTwitter from Ivanhoe, KS
  • I’m about to jump out of a plane into a corn field in Kansas. I probably should’ve told someone I’m scared of heights. Oh boy. 6:24 AM Sep 14th, 2010 via ÜberTwitter from here
  • In Greeley, CO at cattle feedlot to learn about beef production. Surrounded by piles of manure big enough to deserve … http://tmi.me/1ffQH 10:49 AM Sep 10th, 2010 via ÜberTwitter from Greeley, CO
  • Woke up this morning to the smell of…100,000 cattle. Talk about a wake up call! I thought it smelled bad on Survivor. Skipping breakfast. 10:15 AM Sep 10th, 2010 via ÜberTwitter from Kersey-Gill, CO
  • Woke up today in Cut Bank, MT, coldest place in mainland USA. Kicking myself for wearing shorts. Learning how to harvest wheat today. Yeah! 10:58 AM Sep 9th, 2010 via ÜberTwitter from Cut Bank, MT
  • Little of this sounds like FCC business, does it?  It sure sounds like fun, but it also sounds as though Kwon was working for PBS at the same time he held a management position at the FCC — a rather blatant violation of the law and a conflict of interest to boot.  Some of this activity took place just after his daughter’s birth, which prompts the question as to whether Kwon conducted any of this activity while on paternity leave through the FMLA — which would also be a problem, since the FMLA doesn’t exist to allow people to work second jobs.

    Did Genachowski know of Kwon’s activities?  Did anyone wonder where Kwon was doing during what looks like copious time away from the office?  Perhaps someone in an Oversight Committee might like to ask Genachowski a few of these questions.  Given the propensity for PBS’ puppets to show up in Congress to testify for funding, it seems like perhaps we should find out what other puppets may still be working at the FCC.

    Update: Interesting points to ponder from a reader:

    I may be wrong about this, but I believe that the FCC doesn’t directly regulate “PBS” — what they regulate are the individual stations that make up the PBS network. Furthermore, PBS itself doesn’t produce programs — many of them, such as Yul Kwon’s “America Revealed,” are produced by outside production companies. I suspect that Yul or his supporters may point out that Yul was working for Lion Productions, an independent production company, not a directly FCC-regulated entity. Whether his “moonlighting” for them was proper is a separate matter.

    The first argument is the same as saying that the FCC doesn’t regulate ABC or CBS, which is true but meaningless.  Their only distribution channels are through their broadcast stations, which means that the FCC regulates them.  The “America Revealed” program may have been produced outside of PBS, but it was a PBS project — clearly identified as such in December when the photographer shot the picture of Kwon under the tower.  It amounts to doing work for PBS, which is a regulated entity.

    However, even if it wasn’t, how could Kwon spend weeks or months flying all over the US filming this show while supposedly drawing a taxpayer-funded salary?  The FCC either doesn’t keep very good track of its employees or someone high up endorsed this moonlighting.