The executive in charge of the eRate has resigned effective Aug. 28. Ira Fishman, chief executive officer of the Schools and Libraries Corp. (SLC), made his announcement Aug. 13, 1998.
Fishman announced his resignation after it appeared the eRate had survived another round of congressional and legal challenges, at least until fall. Following repeated attacks on the program’s implementation, the eRate earned a short reprieve when Congress adjourned for summer recess.
As head of the SLC, Fishman was responsible for putting all the people, procedures, and systems in place to administer the eRate.
Kate Moore, the corporation’s chief operating office, will become acting CEO when Fishman leaves. Moore had been chief financial officer of the United Way of America before joining the corporation.
Fishman became a lightning rod for eRate opponents who criticized the program’s bureaucracy.
But Fishman, who said he was under no pressure to resign, said the controversy over the program did not drive him to leave.
“The political heat has not been a direct issue,” he said. “It obviously has impact on that balance of family life and professional life.”
Fishman has had his congressional supporters as well as detractors. “Like every new program, the eRate has faced numerous challenges throughout its startup period,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. “Ira has tackled each and every one and made important changes to the program’s implementation based on recommendations by Congress and auditors.”
Fishman and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which oversees the SLC, have taken steps to address critics’ concerns about the program, including making sure the poorest schools and libraries get discounted hookups first.
Fishman’s initial $200,000-a-year salary, which was set by the corporation’s board, was criticized by leading telecommunications lawmakers as lavish. In response, the FCC adopted rules barring any SLC employee from being paid more than $151,000 a year, effective July 1. The FCC also withdrew a potential $50,000 bonus for Fishman.
In an interview with eRate Update, Fishman said he was leaving the SLC to spend more time with his family. “When I agreed to do this, I made certain commitments to my family, and I am no longer able to [meet] my commitments here and to my family,” Fishman said.
The CEO position was slated to be terminated at the end of the year in any case, Fishman explained. That’s when the SLC undergoes a merger with another agency. In May, the FCC voted to streamline the administration of the eRate by folding the SLC and the Rural Health Care Corp. into a single entity.
“When I took this on, there was a whole package of things that were important to me, [such as] having a stable position and fair compensation,” Fishman said. But the merger and salary cut changed all that, he said.
The resignation of the SLC’s first CEO comes at an inopportune time. eRate funding commitment letters are due to be sent this fall, and the SLC is still developing procedures for reviewing vendor invoices and protecting against fraud. More than 30,000 institutions have submitted applications for discounts.
Fishman said he doesn’t know what he’ll do next. He denied rumors he would join the presidential campaign of Vice President Al Gore, who has been a principal eRate proponent.
The eRate program has come under intense scrutiny in recent months. Vocal Republicans in Congress want to limit or dismantle the program, which derives its funds from contributions from telecommunications companies. Yet Fishman said the program would survive.
“I wouldn’t be leaving if I thought [the eRate] wasn’t on solid footing. I feel very comfortable about that and about Kate Moore and the others who will be running it,” Fishman said.
Moore currently oversees the day-to-day operations of the SLC, including the development of the SLC web site, the process by which eRate applications are reviewed, and the organization’s operating budget.
Schools and libraries have not yet received any discounted services through the program, which is in its first year. Some 30,000 applications are pending, and no money is expected to be disbursed until the fall.