The Senate Appropriations Committee March 17 approved a measure that would require the Federal Communications Commission to restructure the program of universal service support for schools, libraries and rural health care providers to make it more accountable to Congress.
The measure, part of a supplemental appropriations bill for fiscal 1998, would also require the FCC to provide Congress with detailed information about the subsidies and their potential impact on phone bills.
Under the measure, the Schools and Libraries Corporation and the Rural Health Care Corporation would be folded into one entity. The FCC had moved to create separate corporations to administer those programs with an eye to meeting the needs of their particular constituencies. The bill calls for the FCC to propose a revised structure to administer the programs by May 8.
Under the bill, the new entity would be limited to "the ministerial acts of processing the applications" and would not be permitted to administer the programs in any manner that requires it "to interpret the intent of Congress in establishing the program or interpret any rule" issued by the FCC.
The General Accounting Office recently concluded that the FCC had overstepped its authority when it created the Schools and Libraries Corporation because Congress had not specifically authorized the independent corporation.
Under the measure, none of the salaries paid to executives of the new entity could exceed the government's "level I of executive schedule pay," which is now $151,800 a year. SLC CEO Ira Fishman currently earns $200,000 a year and Chief Operating Officer Kate Moore earns $160,000.
The legislation also calls on the FCC to calculate the amounts requested by schools and libraries for each part of the program–telecommunications services, internal connections and Internet access–in the applications that are received by April 15.
The measure, which was sponsored by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Commerce Committee, which oversees the FCC, and Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., the Commerce Committee's ranking Democrat, must still be approved by the full Senate and the House.