FCC plans to shut the lights out in two-thirds of its field offices have drawn criticism from broadcasters and powered up some added scrutiny from Capitol Hill. “We care a lot about what goes on in the field,” House Commerce Committee Republican staffer David Redl told the NAB Show. “We’re reviewing the materials the FCC has provided to us in terms of their decision-making process to potentially close field offices,” Redl said. “This is an issue we are not only passionate about but actively engaged to looking into.”
Station owner-turned-congressman Greg Walden (R-OR) has used his position as House Telecommunications Subcommittee chair to dig into how the FCC intends to meet its interference-fighting duties by relying on a strike force sitting in suburban Washington rather than scattered around the country.
Democratic Commerce Committee staffer Margaret McCarthy said few in Congress want to see field offices close, but the FCC is trying to do more with less as its budget has been “flat-lined” and the agency operates with the fewest number of full-time employees in decades. “We can’t really punish the agency when Congress isn’t providing them more resources to do their job,” she said.
There’s little talk among House Republicans to funnel additional dollars to the FCC to keep the lights on, with focus instead on getting the agency to spend what it gets differently. “We understand the FCC is trying to do the most with what it’s got, but the field offices existed under the budget they had last year,” she said.
Redl said a particular worry is Los Angeles and San Francisco will be the only remaining field offices west of the Rockies that will stay open, circumstances sure to challenge FCC chair Tom Wheeler’s pledge to fix problems within a day. “So looking at how this will play out in the real world is what we’re looking at,” he said.