Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Public Broadcasting and the Budget Appropriation Process

In the previous posts in this series, I’ve presented perspectives on whether the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) should continue to receive funding, and reviewed the history of radio and television broadcasting to acknowledge the federal government’s role in managing scarce resources and promoting innovation in both media.

In this concluding post, I turn to a closer examination of what has to take place for a proposed budget cut to actually happen. I’ll rely on the excellent introduction to the budget process in A People’s Guide to the Federal Budget, available from the Armacost Library collection.

The executive and legislative branches of government share responsibility for determining federal spending levels. The process typically begins a year in advance when the president and cabinet members decide on policy priorities. (Thus, the current debate would impact the CPB in fiscal year 2018.) 

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) instructs federal agencies how to submit their budgets in accordance with these priorities, and agencies submit proposed budgets for OMB approval. (In January, a document written by OMB staffers as they prepared these instructions for agencies triggered the New York Times article that drew widespread attention to the possibility of a CPB budget cut.)

Once OMB has approved agency spending proposals, Congress translates these executive branch guidelines into binding laws. It is important to distinguish between two types of Congressional laws affecting agencies – authorizations that give the agency legal permission to exist, and appropriations that commit the money it needs to operate. 

Federal agencies are gathered together into twelve budget requesting groups, and each group requires its own appropriations bill. The House and Senate each have responsibility for writing their own sets of appropriations bills which are eventually reconciled; thus twelve laws are required to pass a budget. (The Corporation for Public Broadcasting falls into the appropriations request for Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and related agencies.)

Representatives and Senators sitting on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are the influential women and men who write the spending bills. Each bill is delegated to a standing subcommittee, and the subcommittee Chair commonly has the privilege of writing the first draft (the “chair’s mark”). Committee and subcommittee chairs belong to the political party that won a majority in the most recent House or Senate election, and other committee members must negotiate with the chair if they want to revise the initial mark. Committee members regularly invite experts to advise them as they author their drafts. Many noteworthy hearings are broadcast live on C-SPAN. (The Chair of the House Appropriations Labor, HHS, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee is Tom Cole (R-OK) and the Chair of the Senate Appropriations Labor, HHS, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee is Roy Blunt (R-Mo). The House Subcommittee recently invited CPB officials to testify at a two hour hearing on March 28 that was recorded by C-SPAN.) 

Once the appropriations subcommittee finishes marking up an appropriations bill, it makes its way through the full committee and eventually is introduced for floor debate. This can take a long time as representatives propose amendments, earmark spending for favored programs or try to cancel out language favored by the other party. The schedule of committee hearings and floor debates is published on the House and Senate websites, and full remarks are printed in the Congressional Record published daily by the Library of Congress. Eventually, appropriations bills go up for a vote in each house of Congress. Once the bills are passed, a conference committee composed of members from the House and Senate have to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of each appropriations bill before it can be signed into law by the President.

All budget proposals must follow this long and complicated process to take effect. There are many points in the process where lawmakers could propose a federal funding level similar to the $445 million the corporation has received in recent years (Corporation for Public Broadcasting 2015). There are also numerous points where you can influence your local representatives, whether they are serving on the appropriations committee, having their say on the bill during floor discussion or reconciling the House and Senate versions in conference.

Here’s a summary of the government information resources I mentioned above that can help you keep up with the latest updates on CPB appropriations, or any other legislation of interest:

·      Congressional Record: 
·      House and Senate websites: and
·      Office of Management and Budget (OMB):
·      C-SPAN:

Sanjeet Mann
Arts & Systems Librarian
University of Redlands


Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 2015. “CPB’s Past Appropriations.” March 24.

Kramer, Mattea. 2012. A People’s Guide to the Federal Budget. Northampton: Interlink Books.

Lafraniere, Sharon and Alan Rappeport. 2017. “Popular Domestic Programs Face Ax Under First Trump Budget.” New York Times, February 17.

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