WASHINGTON —  Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) has placed a hold on the nomination of Michael O’Rielly to another term on the Federal Communications Commission, the committee announced July 28.

Inhofe said he would block O’Rielly until the nominee “publicly commits to vote to overturn the current Ligado order.”

The FCC on April 20 granted Ligado a modification to its L-band spectrum license to allow the company to build a terrestrial 5G wireless network despite strong opposition from the Pentagon and other government agencies.

Inhofe accused the FCC of issuing the Ligado order without having properly assessed the impact of Ligado’s wireless network on the Global Positioning System that also operates in the L-band spectrum. The FCC has pushed back and insisted the license modification to Ligado comes with strict conditions to ensure there’s no impact on GPS services.

O’Rielly’s nomination for a new five-year term on the FCC was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee and on July 22 moved to the full Senate for a vote. O’Rielly, a Republican, was nominated to fill a vacancy on the FCC in 2013 by then-President Barack Obama. In January 2015, he was confirmed to a full five-year term. While that term expired last year, FCC commissioners are permitted to serve until the current session of Congress ends. That means O’Rielly has until January to convince Inhofe to lift the hold.

Inhofe said he would keep a hold on the nomination until O’Rielly declares he will support reversing the Ligado order. “I understand that O’Rielly has stated that he would give due consideration to a stay based on new data or evidence,” Inhofe said in a statement.

“Over the past few months, I have sent letters, held hearings and called countless officials to highlight what we all know to be true: the FCC’s Ligado order is flawed and will lead to significant harm to our military and the thousands of individuals and businesses that rely on GPS,” Inhofe said.

Although a U.S. senator can put an indefinite hold on any nomination or piece of legislation for any reason, a Washington source who has worked with the FCC could not recall Inhofe or any other senator putting such an explicit condition on the confirmation  of an FCC commissioner. 

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...