Public Broadcasters Angered Over Orszag's Description of Grant Programs

PTFP and RUS digital grant programs in the sights of administration's budget-cutting efforts
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Public broadcasters took aim at the Office of Management and Budget on Wednesday (May 26) over a blog posting by OMB Director Peter Orszag that described a pair of techology grant programs are "duplicative and wasteful."

The Commerce Department's Public Telecommunications Facilities Program (PTFP) and the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service Digital Transition Grant Program have been in the administration's sights as part of a budget-cutting effort in which it was proposing zeroing out the funding--$25 million combined--for programs it said were primarily about the already-completed transition to digital. The Association of Public Television Stations (APTS), the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and PBS counter that the two programs are essential.

Orzag argued that the technology support programs are unnecessary because they can be supported through other CPB mechanisms. But the public broadcasters say that is not true, and that the programs' support is not duplicated via any other federal or state monies. "Far from being duplicative of CPB’s existing grant programs," they argue, "a significant portion of PTFP funds go toward entities and activities ineligible for CPB support, including organizations building their first station, low-power television and radio stations and nonbroadcast organizations such as school districts and university distance learning projects."

They point out that the PTFP is the only federal funding for natural or man-made disasters--wild fires, hurricanes, floods--that helps keep public stations on the air.

CPB, which is the independent mechanism for distributing federal money to noncoms, says that given its primary mandate of funding proramming, it "does not have the funding or the mechanisms to support the extensive infrastructure investments that PTFP and the RUS Digital Transition Grant Program currently fund."

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