House Republicans question FCC budget

Republicans on the House Commerce Committee are asking the Federal Communications Commission to justify parts of its budget for the next year.

In a letter sent to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Friday, Committee Republicans asked for more information about areas “of concern” in the agency’s budget, including the number of staff dedicated to traditional telephone technology, the agency’s use of contract employees and the agency’s plans for the funding it has to conduct auctions to sell off licenses to airwaves.

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In the letter, the 23 Republicans — led by Committee Chairman Fred Upton (Mich.), Chairman of the subcommittee on Communications, Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.) and Chairman of the subcommittee on Oversight, Rep. Tim Murphy (Pa.) — asked Wheeler why the FCC was increasing staff in its Wireline Competition Bureau, which deals with wire-based technology, such as the traditional phone system.

The lawmakers noted that the bureau is growing by 57 full time employees.

“We are particularly interested in this bureau’s growth given the changing role of wireline technology in the telecommunications system,” they wrote.

The group pushed for more information on what the FCC intends to do with the funding it has for its spectrum auctions, asking how the agency plans to put the funding toward general administrative costs, rather than costs that are related to the auctions.

“These funds are intended to enable successful auctions and the fund should be expended in a manner consistent with that objective, rather than contributing to the Commission’s general budget,” the letter said.

The Republicans also asked Wheeler to explain how the agency compensates contract employees.

“While it is important for the Commission to have access to experienced and knowledgeable consultants, it is also critical to do so in a way that is fiscally responsible,” they wrote.

An agency spokesman said the FCC is reviewing the letter.