FCC Budget Hearing Before House Panel Reveals More Rifts At Agency
Pai: Congress Should Block Funding Of Net Neutrality Rule Enforcement
March 24, 2015 at 12:26 PM (PT)
The FCC appeared once again on CAPITOL HILL TODAY (3/24), this time to talk about budgetary issues in front of the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, revealing yet more conflict between Chairman TOM WHEELER and the Republican minority at the Commission and opening up a new front in the battle over net neutrality regulation with the suggestion by Commissioner AJIT PAI that Congress block funding for implementation and enforcement of the rules.
WHEELER presented the agency's fiscal year 2016 budget to the panel, asking for $388 million in general spending authority (up from FY 2015's $339.8 million) plus an auctions cap of $117 million and $25 million transferred from the Universal Service Fund while asserting, "We have not shied from making difficult choices, and you can see the results," but noting that one item the cost of which the agency could not control is the expense related to the expiring lease for office space ($51 million in FY 2016).
WHEELER touted, "Few, if any, government agencies deliver a better return on investment than the FCC. We do not require a direct appropriation because we are funded entirely by fees collected from those we regulate. The Commission not only pays its own way, we also generate significant revenue for the Treasury."
But PAI told the panel, "I have never been asked to participate in the development of the agency’s budget request. And after reviewing this proposal, I am unable to support it." Noting the 17% increase requested and the baseline of $413 billion, PAI said, "At a time when domestic discretionary spending is generally scheduled to remain flat under the current budget caps, I do not believe that this request is fiscally responsible. And at a time when so many Americans in this country are struggling to make ends meet in this stagnant economy, federal agencies should be looking for ways to tighten their belts."
He proposed that Congress reject the WHEELER plan's transfer of $25 million from the Universal Service Fund, calling it a "stealth tax increase" on consumers, that Congress not include the FCC's relocation expenses in the budget but instead issue specific budget authority for the move, and that Congress forbid the Commission from funding implementation and enforcement of the Open Internet order ("instead of trying to fix something that isn’t broken, let’s use our limited budget to fix something that is broken, such as the Commission’s information technology systems or its widely panned, user-unfriendly website").