FCC 2016

The Federal Communications Commission asked for less money but Congress appears poised to shrink its budget by an even larger amount in the coming fiscal year. The House Appropriations Committee has released its spending outline for several government agencies including the FCC. The bill allocates $315 million to the agency in 2017—a cut of $69 million compared to what Congress gave the Commission this year.

“Our bill reduces funding for agencies that we believe can produce results with fewer dollars,” Financial Services Subcommittee chair Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) says. “And, where there is a history of inappropriate behavior—cutbacks and reforms are recommended to hold them accountable.”

FCC chair Tom Wheeler had sought $358 million in 2017, a 6.7% drop from its budget in the current fiscal year. His proposal includes a small increase in spending and staffing at the Media Bureau while at the Enforcement Bureau the number of employees would shrink to 211—a 16% decline compared to 2015—in part because a number of field offices around the country were closed. Wheeler’s budget request included a 1.3% pay increase for FCC staffers and $16.8 million to help fund the continued consolidation of the agency’s Washington offices. Wheeler estimates the FCC will save up to $119 million during the next 15 years by using less rented office space.

But after allocating $43 million less to the FCC than what Wheeler had sought, House Republicans justified the move in part by specifically taking some duties off the FCC’s plate.

The bill would prohibit the FCC from implementing its net neutrality order until several pending court cases are resolved. It also would prohibit the FCC from regulating internet broadband rates and would keep the agency from moving forward with planned set-top cable box rules until it completes a study. Congress would also force the FCC to begin publicly releasing newly proposed regulations for 21 days before the Commission votes on them. Similar limits on the FCC’s authority were included in last year’s spending bill but they were later left by the wayside as part of a budget deal with the White House.

House Appropriations Committee chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) says the Republican plan will “hold the reins on the over-spending and overreach within federal bureaucracies” while helping grow the economy. “This bill makes great strides on all accounts—carefully investing taxpayer dollars in programs that promote opportunity, while keeping these agencies accountable to the American people,” Rogers says in a statement.