FCC Prepares for Government Shutdown

A government shutdown was looking more likely late Thursday (Dec. 20) after the House passed an appropriations bill, with over $5 billion in "wall/steel slat" funding that the Senate is unlikely to pass. If so, the FCC could continue to operate if it has prior-year funding to tap into, but if not, it will scale back to activities "immediately necessary for the protection of life and property."

During last January's brief government shutdown, the FCC remained open because it still had funding available—unlike other agencies, the FCC is self-sustaining, paying for its operations out of regulatory fees.

If there is a shutdown this time, too, activities that don't qualify as exempt and will be suspended—according to a copy of the FCC shutdown plan obtained by B&C—include: "Consumer complaint and inquiry phone lines cannot be answered; consumer protection and local competition enforcement must cease; licensing services, including broadcast, wireless, and wireline, must cease; management of radio spectrum and the creation of new opportunities for competitive technologies and services for the American public must be suspended; and equipment authorizations, including those bringing new electronic devices to American consumers, cannot be provided."

If there is a shutdown late Friday, FCC employees will report to work on Monday for an "orderly shutdown," but should not be at work for more than about four hours, when non-furlough exempt employees will get an e-mail telling them to stop working, though that "shutdown" work must be confined to securing work areas, canceling all travel and training, canceling all meetings and FCC-sponsored events and notifying participants, and setting up out-of-office messages.

Because they are paid by other than an annual appropriation, the chairman and the three commissioners are exempt from the shutdown. There are another 200 employees whose salary and expenses are not funded out of appropriations that lapse Dec. 21. They are supporting spectrum auction-related activities.

There is a 28 GHz spectrum auction in process, but that was already scheduled to go on hiatus from 1 p.m. Friday (Dec. 21), to Thursday, Jan. 3.

If there is a shutdown, a total of 245 employees (17%) will still have to go to work, while 1,197 will be sent home. 

Outside contractors will be retained for various things like IT support, security, and to support auction-related activities. 

Some of the 1,197 could be called back to work to perform excepted functions "as needed."

During the October 2013, three-week, government shutdown, the FCC shuttered its web site and had to suspend its filing deadlines and suspend its merger-review shot clocks. Commissioners and some essential personnel still came to work, however.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.