The Federal Communications Commission will wind down most of its operations on Thursday if the partial federal government shutdown isn’t resolved by then. Should its lapsed funding not be restored, the commission says “all FCC activities will cease” as of mid-day Thursday, January 3rd, “other than those immediately necessary for the protection of life or property, performing other excepted activities, or those funded through a source other than lapsed appropriations.”
The vast majority of the FCC’s employees would be sent home on furlough if this plan is implemented, with under 20 percent continuing to show up for work alongside the commission’s leaders — chairman Ajit Pai and commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel, Michael O’Rielly, and Brendan Carr.
For electronics makers, the most immediate effect of the FCC suspending operations would be a pause in testing and approvals for new devices during the furlough period. But the move also impacts consumers, broadcasters, and businesses — and most of all the federal workers being furloughed. Even if operations are partially suspended, the FCC will retain employees to ensure that auctions (like those for 5G spectrum) aren’t disrupted.
What happens if the FCC suspends most of its operations?
The FCC has laid everything out in its plan for an orderly shutdown. The commission says all of its below duties will be halted if its employees must be furloughed due to the partial federal government shutdown, which has now stretched on for more than a week.
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
Equipment authorizations, including those bringing new electronic devices to American consumers, cannot be provided.
This winding down of operations would take around four hours, according to the FCC. Of the 1,442 employees “on board” before any partial shutdown plan is activated, just 245 (around 17 percent) would remain working once it’s put into place. Over 200 contractors would also be kept on.
Chairman Ajit Pai and the three FCC commissioners continue working.
Up to 200 employees will be retained under the plan because their salary and expenses are not funded out of annual appropriations that will lapse on December 21 and they will be supporting spectrum auction-related activities.
Up to 13 employees, not otherwise exempt, will be retained to protect life and property. These are full-time employees, working shifts to cover 24 hour and 18 hour operations. Up to two employees working per shift at each location.
Staff of the FCC Operations Center will handle emergency contacts for agency. Staff of the High Frequency Direction Finding (HFDF) Center will operate the high frequency antenna system used to protect life and property. One management employee will oversee and coordinate regularly with both operations to help identify and respond to imminent threats to life or property.
Up to three employees will be retained to provide oversight or conduct interference detection, mitigation, and disaster response operations wherever they may be needed. These will be full-time employees strategically located across the country to resolve imminent threats to the safety of life or property.
Up to 11 employees will be retained for critical oversight/protection of life or property.
Up to five employees will be retained to perform international and treaty related activity instrumental in the discharge of the President’s constitutional power.
Five employees will be retained for critical Information Technology (IT) issues.
Two employees will be retained, working as needed, to certify Universal Service Fund (USF) disbursements.
President Trump and Democrats are currently locked in a battle over federal funding; the president is adamant that any deal to end the furlough include money for his border wall project. Democrats take control of the House on Thursday — the day the FCC says it might have to curtail most operations — and are reportedly planning to introduce legislation to re–open the government without funding the wall. ABC News estimates that around 800,000 employees are already affected by the ongoing situation.
The FCC made similar preparations during the partial federal government shutdown in January 2018, but that shutdown ended before the plan had to be implemented. Hopefully the same thing happens here. However, with no clear resolution in sight this time, the commission might have to follow through. Trump has invited eight lawmakers to the White House on Wednesday to discuss the ongoing shutdown and border wall, according to Politico. FCC employees would be expected back at work the next business day after any deal to fully restore the government is reached and the furlough ends.