As President-elect Obama and his chief performance officer Nancy Killefer, formerly of McKinsey & Co., ponder how to make government more efficient, they could cast an eye on almost any federal agency and find savings for the American taxpayer.
One example is the Federal Communications Commission, which is failing to earn hundreds of millions of dollars annually for the taxpayers by undercharging for the private use of parts of the radio spectrum, notably the frequencies used for the links between cell phone towers and the integrated telephone network.
Congress and the incoming president are thinking of spending billions of dollars on economic stimulus, so saving a few hundred million may not sound like much. But, to paraphrase the late Illinois Republican Senator Everett Dirksen, a few hundred million here and a few hundred million there and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.
The FCC makes money by leasing without competitive bidding high-frequency bands of the electromagnetic spectrum. Had the FCC auctioned off this spectrum to the highest bidders beginning over a decade ago, it would have generated hundreds of millions of dollars a year for the Treasury. Instead, the FCC chose to lease individual parts of these bands, known in the industry as “links.”