FCC Budget Request: Dollars Up, Staff Down

The Federal Communications Commission has submitted its budget request for fiscal year 2016, and on its face it’s pretty vanilla. The agency seeks the authority to spend some $536 million — nearly $80 million more than last year. The tax burden for FCC operations for the average citizen is effectively nil, as the agency funds itself through spectrum auction/license income and other regulatory fees, with any surpluses sent to the U.S. Treasury.
The vast majority of the FCC’s increased ask relates to money it would like to earmark to administer more spectrum auctions (including one to repack the digital TV service to make more spectrum available for wireless broadband), continue the overhaul of its subsidy programs for public telecommunications, and prepare for a reorganization of the FCC’s headquarters. That last one is perhaps the most notable for its direct effect on agency operations, as the FCC leases its space and the contract is coming due. Options include moving FCC HQ in its entirety (a process last done in the late ’90s) or “restacking” the existing office complex to “substantially reduce our square footage and lower our rental expense.”
No matter the outcome, it’s expected to cost $44 million to reorganize, and there will be fewer full-time equivalent (FTE) employees at HQ in the next fiscal year — 37 current lines will be eliminated. The Enforcement Bureau is taking the largest cut (8), followed by the Office of the Managing Director (7), Wireline Competition Bureau (6), Media Bureau (5), and Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (4). The Office of Engineering and Technology and International Bureau will both lose three FTE positions, while the Office of the General Counsel cuts two. Only the Office of the Inspector General will hire new lines (8), as part of an agency initiative to cut its audit/investigation case backlog (70 and growing) and provide more oversight of its administration of funds.
One notable ask entails more than $17 million to modernize the Commission’s information technology infrastructure. The agency’s moving away from physically hosting its own servers to cloud-based systems and applications, which it expects will save lots of dough in increased efficiency and less onsite IT staff. Accoording to the summary document, “IT service performance has been declining in recent years because the Commission has been relying on 207 different systems, of which more than 50 percent are over 10 years old.” This is represented as phase two of a migration that began last fiscal year; the majority of the projected expenses involve rewriting the agency’s applications for cloud-hosting and beefing up network security.
In the bureau-specific breakdown, while the Enforcement folks are losing career lines they are asking for very slight increases in travel, the use of contract services, and equipment/materials costs. The Bureau’s been working for years now to modernize the mobile gear its field agents use for enforcement purposes, and this particular request seems to be in line with that continuing process. But, as in the broadcast industry more generally, finding well-qualified staff is increasingly difficult to do.