How much will it take to run the Federal Communications Commission in the coming fiscal year? The best estimate of agency budget writers is $343.07 million. That’s a 1.2% increase from the $339 million that Congress appropriated the FCC in the current fiscal year that runs through Sept. 30. The increase would cover higher costs tied to a 1% across-the-board pay increase for staff as well as investments in new technology and infrastructure.
Unlike most federal agencies, the FCC offsets much of what it spends with the collection of fees on services it regulates. That includes the annual fees charged to radio stations. The agency has not yet specified what 2021 fees on radio would be but the budget blueprint proposes a small increase in fees collected through industries that fall under the Media Bureau.
The FCC will collect billions of dollars more if the Trump administration gets its way. It is once again asking Congress to give the Commission authority to charge a spectrum license fee. Those fees would be in addition to annual regulatory fees and would be phased-in over time. The FCC estimates if they begin in 2021, the spectrum license fees would bring in $4 billion through 2030. The White House tried a similar move a year ago, even though it’s a proposal floated nearly every year despite never gaining traction.
The National Association of Broadcasters has been critical of charging local radio and TV stations spectrum licensing fees in the past. Along with other well-connected Washington allies like the telecom industry, NAB has so far been able to convince Congress to reject such an idea.
“Consistent with our position on previous proposed White House budgets, NAB opposes the idea of spectrum fees on broadcasters,” NAB Executive VP Dennis Wharton said. “This unwarranted proposal would threaten the ability of local radio and television stations to serve our tens of millions of viewers and listeners.”
More Money For Media Bureau
The FCC’s 163-page spending plan submitted to Congress this week includes $22.2 million in funding for the Media Bureau, a 1.8% bump from the current fiscal year. The FCC proposes to keep Bureau staffing level steady at 131 full-time employees. In fact the agency aims to keep its overall full-time employee roster right where it is at 1,448 employees. That’s above the 1,422 level recorded in 2019 and well below historical levels seen during the past three decades. The FCC offered a voluntary early retirement during the past several years and so far it says 14 agency staffers have accepted. Under current management, the FCC has also reduced its use of outside contractors to save money.
The outline also seeks $38.8 million in funding for the Enforcement Bureau, a 2.3% increase from this year. Staffing levels would also remain flat at 190 full-time Bureau employees.
One area where the budget would be cut is the office of Chairman Ajit Pai and the four commissioners. The FCC is seeking to shrink that budget line by nearly $200,000 despite holding its staffing level at 22 full-timers.
Among the areas where the FCC plans to spend more is on modernizing several of its outdated legacy-based systems. It has put the Electronic Document System and Consolidated Database System—both used by broadcasters—on that list. Other technology upgrades will mean a shift to cloud-based platforms and away from legacy-based applications. The FCC says that will result in “more resilient, secure, and highly available” applications.
FCC Moving HQ In June
One way the FCC is reducing expenses is by relocating its headquarters at the Portals office complex in Southwest D.C. By changing its offices, the FCC will cut the square footage of its headquarters by about 30% and lower the overall rent in the process. It is estimated that the move will provide up to $119 million in total net savings over the 15 years of the new lease. The new lease with the Portals will require the FCC to move to a newly-built facility by the time the current fiscal year ends. That means the moving trucks will be pulling up to the agency’s doors and the government has estimated it will cost $71 million to make the move.
“The Commission intends to move to the new headquarters building in June 2020,” the FCC said in its budget outline.