Purpose & History of CPB’s Advance Appropriations

CPB’s two-year advance appropriation dates back to 1975. The Ford Administration had proposed appropriating funding to CPB for five years automatically upon approval of a reauthorization bill, and the two-year advance appropriation was a bipartisan, bicameral compromise.

House and Senate appropriators objected to including appropriation approval on an authorization bill but not to the rationale for CPB to receive its funding commitment well in advance. The agreement removed the appropriations language from the authorization bill and provided funding commitment to CPB two years in advance — a commitment that has been honored ever since. The two-year advance appropriation means that Congress approves the FY2018 funding level for CPB during the FY2016 budget cycle, its FY2019 funding during the FY2017 cycle, and so on.

Public Broadcasting Financing Act of 1975

Long-range financing has been important to public broadcasting from the very beginning. There are three key reasons why Congress commits funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) two years in advance. The advance appropriation:

  1. Insulates CPB from politically motivated interference with programming;
  2. Allows public media stations to use this commitment of federal dollars to leverage critical investments from state and local governments, universities, businesses, foundations — and most importantly, their viewers and listeners; and
  3. Provides adequate lead time for the production of major programming.

For 35 years, Congress has supported advance appropriations for CPB to help insulate CPB from politically motivated interference with programming. The House Commerce Committee report accompanying the 1975 bill stated that advance funding “would go a long way toward eliminating both the risk of and the appearance of undue interference with and control of public broadcasting … and will minimize the possibility of any government scrutiny of or influence on programming that might occur in the course of the usual annual budgetary, authorization, and appropriation process.”[1]  The two-year buffer makes such influence less likely to occur because funding for the next two years is already secured.

Congress envisioned that advance funding would allow “local stations to undertake advance program planning with assurance as to the level of Federal funding available in the foreseeable future,”[2] and that “advance appropriations… could help to improve the planning and management of public broadcasting.”[3]  Public media stations use this commitment of federal dollars to leverage critical investments from state and local governments, universities, businesses, foundations — and most importantly, their viewers and listeners. The federal investment is multiplied through leveraging, with public media stations raising more than six nonfederal dollars for each dollar appropriated to CPB.

Having a two-year federal funding commitment puts public media stations in a better position to recruit community partners for projects, one public television general manager says. “Advance funding signals to our (increasingly strapped) institutions that we will have the financial wherewithal to complement institutional funds in the delivery of service.”[4]  In addition, many public radio stations are licensed to academic institutions, and the stations find it useful to understand their funding sources two years in advance. As one public radio general manager reports, “Universities now are working on enrollment strategies, hiring and curriculum development for [the next year]. Given many stations are still embedded in the university environment … the advance funding model is very helpful.”[5]

The advance appropriation provides lead time for the production of major programming. Signature series such as The Civil WarThe Roosevelts, and The War, the 2007 Ken Burns film on World War II, typically require several years to produce. The advance appropriation allows producers essential time to plan, design, create, and support the high-quality programming and services that CPB is mandated to provide to viewers and listeners nationwide. As the Senate Commerce Committee report noted, “program series production requires the projection of budget costs over more than one year … absent reasonable assurance as to the levels of Federal funding available over a multi-year period, the Corporation and local educational stations can undertake this kind of advance planning on only the most limited scale.”[6]  


[1] House Report 94-245, Part 1 (House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce) to accompany H.R. 6461, The Public Broadcasting Financing Act of 1975 (Public Law 94-192)

[2] Ibid.

[3] House Report 94-245, Part 2 (House Committee on Appropriations) to accompany H.R. 6461

[4] Association of Public Television Stations (APTS) Survey, October 2011.

[5] Station manager email to NPR, November 2013.

[6] Senate Report 94-447 (Senate Committee on Commerce) to accompany H.R. 6461, The Public Broadcasting Financing Act of 1975