Order Code RS22168
June 1, 2007
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting:
Federal Funding Facts and Status
Glenn J. McLoughlin
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy
Resources, Science and Industry Division
On February 15, 2007, Congress passed the Revised Continuing Appropriations
Resolution, 2007, which provides funding for federal programs through September 30,
2007 (P.L. 110-5). Included in this legislation is preservation of $400 million in funding
for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) for FY2007. On February 5, 2007,
President Bush released the Administration’s FY2008 budget request. In this request,
the Bush Administration has requested a $50 million recision in CPB’s funding for
FY2008 (at $350 million) and an end to advanced appropriations for CPB.
The CPB receives all of its funding through federal appropriations; overall, about
15% of all public television and radio broadcasting funding comes from the federal
appropriations that CPB distributes. The CPB’s appropriation is allocated through a
distribution formula established in its authorizing legislation. It has historically received
two-year advanced appropriations. This report addresses the components of federal
support for public broadcasting, as well as briefly describing those issues facing public
television and public radio. This report will be updated as events warrant.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) was incorporated as a private
nonprofit corporation in the District of Columbia under the authority of the Public
Broadcasting Act of 1967 (P.L. 90-129). The CPB was intended to provide a funding
mechanism for individual public broadcasting stations, but not subject these stations to
political influence or favoritism. CPB was also intended to provide a funding mechanism
for the creation and operation of program distribution systems interconnecting the
individual public broadcasting stations. Therefore, the CPB receives an annual
appropriation, and then uses this money to provide grants to individual public television
and radio broadcast entities, and independent program producers and distributors. The
Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), National Public Radio (NPR), and Public Radio
International (PRI) sometimes receive direct grants from CPB, but the vast majority of
the appropriated money goes directly to individual local public broadcasting stations,
including most of the member stations and affiliates of these national organizations.
The number of radio and television public broadcasting stations supported by the
CPB increased from 270 in 1969 to approximately 1,100 as of August 2003, of which 356
are television stations. Public broadcasting stations are mostly run by universities,
nonprofit community associations, state government agencies, and local school boards.
Public broadcasting is regarded by many as a public service. To serve most
Americans, public television reaches approximately 99% of the population and public
radio, 91%. With regard to programming, the public broadcasting system observes the
principle of local autonomy. That is, public broadcasting stations make decisions
independently of the CPB as to what programming will be available to their viewing or
listening audience as well as on their programming schedule.1
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting
The CPB serves as an umbrella organization for public television and radio
broadcasting. The CPB is a nonprofit private corporation and is guided by a 9-member
board of directors, of which the members are appointed by the President with the advice
and consent of the Senate. The directors serve for staggered six-year terms. Although its
creation as a private nonprofit corporation was motivated by the desire to eliminate
political influence, it is required to make reports to Congress and submit to audits. The
CPB’s principal function is to receive and distribute government contributions (or federal
appropriations) to fund national programs and to support qualified public radio and
television stations based on legislatively mandated formulas. The bulk of these funds are
to provide Community Service Grants (or CSGs) to stations that meet specified eligibility
criteria, including the amount of matching funds they receive from non-federal sources.
By law, the CPB is authorized to exercise minimum control of “program content or other
activities” of local stations. The CPB is prohibited from owning or operating any of the
primary facilities used in broadcasting. In addition, it may not produce, disseminate, or
schedule programs. In November 2005, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, Chairman of the CPB
Board of Directors, resigned shortly before a CPB Inspector General’s report was
released, critical of his use of CPB contract money. The current president and CEO of
CPB is Patricia S. Harrison, appointed by the board in June 2005.
Overall, 15.6% of all public television and radio broadcasting funding comes from
the federal appropriations that CPB distributes. However, among individual public
broadcasting stations, the amount of federal dollars that contributes to a station’s annual
budget depends on whether it is a television or radio station, the funds it receives from
non-federal sources, the number and extent of broadcast transmitters required to service
its coverage area, and the extent a station is serving rural areas and minority audiences.
For data on CPB, see [http://www.cpb.org/about/].
Public Television: PBS
The PBS was created by the CPB in 1969 to operate and manage a nationwide (now
satellite) program distribution system interconnecting all the local public television
stations, and providing a distribution channel for national programs to those public
television stations. Although the PBS does not produce programs for its members, it
aggregates funding for the creation and acquisition of programs by and for the stations and
distributes them through its satellite program distribution system. The current president
and CEO of PBS is Mary Anne Alhadeff, who succeeded Pat Mitchell in 2006.
Public Radio: NPR and PRI
For radio, a different division of responsibilities was established. The CPB created
NPR in 1970 as a news-gathering, production, and program-distribution company
governed by its member public radio stations. Unlike its public television counterpart,
NPR is authorized to produce radio programs for its members as well as to provide,
acquire, and distribute radio programming through its satellite program distribution
system, with regional “up-links” available across the nation for public radio stations and
other producers to distribute their programs. The public radio satellite system is governed
by elected representatives of the entire community of public radio stations, both those
which are members of National Public Radio, and those which are not. Public Radio
International (PRI) was created by a consortium of individual public radio stations to act
as another distributor of public radio content, in competition with National Public Radio
and other existing distributors. Kevin Klose, former director of the U.S. International
Broadcasting Bureau, the government’s non-military worldwide radio and television
network, is president and CEO of NPR. He was appointed by the NPR board in 1998.
Alisa Miller is President and CEO of PRI; she was appointed to both positions in 2005.
Public broadcasting reported total income of $2.3 billion in FY2003 (the most recent
data available). The federal contribution made up 15.6% of the system’s total income.
The remaining 84.4% was raised from non-federal sources (including individuals,
businesses, foundations, state and local governments, and educational institutions). The
largest single income source (26% in FY2003) came from membership. Neither PBS nor
NPR receives grants from the CPB for their general operations; only local public
broadcasting stations receive these generally-unrestricted funds directly.2
The CPB received its first federal funding in FY1969 and continued to receive
annual authorizations and appropriations until FY1975, when the Public Broadcasting
Financing Act of 1975 (P.L. 94-192) established authorization for long-term financing.
The 1975 Act authorized funding for public broadcasting over a period of five years.
Advanced funding from Congress now sets actual appropriations two years in advance of
stations’ receiving their funds from the CPB. The CPB was last reauthorized by Congress
in 1992 (P.L. 102-356).
The CPB’s appropriation is allocated through a distribution formula established in
its authorizing legislation. The uses of the CPB’s funds are broken down into four
categories: grants to stations; grants for programming; system support; and administrative
operations. Approximately 89% of the funding the CPB receives from the federal
government is required to be disbursed in the first two categories, either to public
television and radio, broadcasting stations, or to the producers and distributors of public
radio and television programs. Of that amount, about 18% is allocated for grants to
program producers, and about 5% is allocated for grants to public radio stations that are
restricted in use to production or acquisition of national programs. Almost two-thirds of
the total appropriation is allocated for largely unrestricted grants to public television and
radio broadcasting stations. No more than 5% of the total appropriation may be used for
CPB’s administrative expenses. The remaining percentage of funds is set aside by the
CPB for general system-wide needs that individual stations would have difficulty funding.
A history of appropriations to the CPB is presented in Figure 1 below; the more recent
history of appropriations is in Table 1.
Figure 1. CPB Federal Appropriations Trend Line FY1969-2000
($ in millions)
Source: Compiled by the Congressional Research Service from the Corporation for Public
Broadcasting and The Budget of the U.S. Government, Fiscal Year 2006.
Table 1. CPB Federal Appropriations, FY2001-FY2009
($ in millions)
a. The Bush Administration has requested that the two-year advanced appropriations funding for CPB end,
and therefore has not requested advanced appropriations since 2004.
b. The FY2005 appropriations included a 0.80% rescission for all federal appropriations; CPB’s original
advance appropriation was $390 million.
c. The FY2006 appropriations includes a 0.28% rescission for all federal appropriations. The original
appropriation for CPB in FY2006 was $400 million.
d. The continuing resolution for FY2007 appropriations sustained the advanced appropriations for CPB at
e. The Bush Administration has requested a recision for CPB’s FY2007 appropriations, to $350 million.
Congressional policymakers provided $400 million in advanced appropriations for
CPB in FY2008, and retained the $400 million already passed two years ago for CPB in
FY2006 (P.L. 109-149). There was, however, a 1% rescission for all federal funding put
into place for that fiscal year, resulting in an appropriations level of $396 million.3 For
FY2007, Congress passed a continuing resolution that sustains federal funding through
September 30, 2006 (P.L. 110-5); CPB will receive $400 million. For its FY2007 budget
request, the Bush Administration requested that the advanced federal appropriations for
FY2008 be amended to include a rescission of $50 million, reducing the appropriations
to $350 million. The Administration also asked that advanced appropriations for CPB end
Over the last several years, the Bush Administration also requested that up some
funding from CPB’s enacted appropriations be made available for digital conversion
grants to public television broadcasters. Also, the Administration asked that CPB funding
The actual application of this reduction to individual accounts and line items was determined
by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the individual agencies. See also CRS
Report RL32952, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education: FY2007 Appropriations,
by Paul M. Irwin.
be made available in to upgrade and complete the national interconnection system, which
is the national distribution network of public broadcasting stations.
Film Controversy and PBS
A development that has affected CPB indirectly and PBS directly has been public
attention to Public Broadcasting’s support of the Sundance Film Festival. At the January
2007 festival, much media attention was directed towards several controversial films,
particularly Hound dog, starring 13-year old actress Dakota Fanning, who is assaulted in
the movie. One group, the American Family Association (AFA), noted on its website that
these controversial films were being funded with PBS’ taxpayer money4. The AFA
initiated a campaign for its members to write to Members of Congress to protest PBS’
involvement at Sundance.
In response, PBS released information on its participation in the Sundance Film
Film Festival. According to PBS, it participates in this festival because it considers it as
one of the highest profile showcases of documentary films in the United States. PBS
contends that it has no control or influence over films the Sundance Film Festival accepts.
In 2007, PBS provided $40,000 to sponsor events at the Filmmaker Lodge, a venue for
educational panels on film making, film distribution, and other industry issues. PBS
executives participated on panels at the Filmmaker Lodge to discuss film making and
distribution of documentaries and to highlight PBS films and film makers accepted at the
festival. No PBS sponsorship funds have been used to support a specific non-PBS film.
In addition, the PBS funds used at the festival come from member station dues, not
federally appropriated money.5
In May 2007, another broadcasting controversy occurred when PBS decided not to
nationally distribute a documentary entitled “Islam vs. Islamists: Voices From the Muslim
Center.” The 52 minute film contends that, among other issues, moderate Muslims are
being intimidated by radical Islamists in several Western nations, including the United
Sates. The film’s producers claimed that PBS and the station that produced the film
bowed to pressure from conservative American Muslims by pressuring PBS not to
distribute the film nationally. Eight Members of Congress reportedly responded by letter
demanding that CPB ask PBS to release the film or find another avenue for distribution.
In response, CPB released the film to Oregon Public Broadcasting, which will distribute
it to other public broadcast stations in the country. This will likely result in fewer stations
airing the film than if otherwise distributed through PBS. Observers are concerned that
CPB has contradicted its original mandate of 1967 to buffer public broadcasting and its
stations from political pressure.6
See [http://www.afa.net/about.asp]. According to its website: “The American Family
Association represents and stands for traditional family values, focusing primarily on the
influence of television and other media — including pornography — on our society.”
Communication from PBS Public Affairs Office, February 9, 2007.
As reported by Paul Farhi, “Rejected by PBS, Film on Islam Revived by CPB,” The Washington
Post, May 25, 2007. p. C1.