The ongoing saga of financial mismanagement at National Public Radio yesterday erupted into sharp and partisan debate as Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) fought off Republican attempts to cut federal funding proposed for public broadcasting.
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce approved, 39 to 2, a bill increasing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's budget authorization for the next three fiscal years. At the same time, the committee approved an amendment by Dingell that puts the responsibility for NPR's fiscal soundness in the hands of the corporation.
During debate before the vote, Dingell insisted that "the difficulties of NPR do not reflect upon the rest of public broadcasting."
The bill, designed primarily to offset inflation, would increase existing authorizations from $130 million this year to $145 million in 1984, $153 million in 1985 and $162 million in 1986.
On Monday, the CPB announced it was ready to lend NPR the money it needs to wipe out a $9.1 million deficit predicted for the current fiscal year. Last night, the corporation announced that NPR member stations had overwhelmingly accepted the terms necessary to keep the network going.
CPB President Edward J. Pfister told The Associated Press that board directors had authorized him to negotiate an agreement under which the corporation would lend NPR the money it needs to survive. Pfister said he hoped the agreement could be prepared by July 13, when the CPB board is scheduled to meet again.
The plan calls for a three-year loan, during which CPB will assume oversight of NPR operations. A CPB spokesman said 197 public radio stations had indicated acceptance of the plan; 14 expressed opposition or no opinion.
"The crisis isn't over; we've just cleared another hurdle," said Pfister.
The NPR debate heated up again on Wednesday, when two Republican members of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Reps. James T. Broyhill of North Carolina and Thomas J. Bliley Jr. of Virginia, charged that "CPB and NPR may have been aware of serious mismanagement problems within NPR as long as five years ago, yet failed to take corrective action."
Dingell, who is said by committee staffers to have been a prime supporter of the ouster of NPR president Frank Mankiewicz and NPR board chairman Myron Jones after news of the financial chaos surfaced, replied that there was "no evidence" to support that claim.
Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Calif.), referring to NPR employes as "trendies and leftists," argued at yesterday's hearing that "the prudent thing for this committee is to terminate the life of NPR, at least as per public tax dollars." He also accused NPR of using "federal government taxes to keep their ship afloat," referring to more than $800,000 in payroll withholding taxes NPR failed to forward on schedule to the Internal Revenue Service, according to a recent audit of NPR.
Replying to Dannemeyer's statement that NPR funding should be cut because of "a definite leftward tilt in its bias," particularly in three "pro-Sandinista" programs, Rep. Timothy E. Wirth (D-Colo.) said that programming had nothing to do with the amount of money NPR should receive, and added that it was "inappropriate for this committee to second-guess that which is reported by the media."
Though Wirth admitted there had been "abuses" at NPR, he asserted that "every effort is being made to see these past abuses are sorted out."
Rep. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) grumbled, "We always have to clean up these things after they happen."
Under the provisions of the Dingell amendment, CPB may not distribute any funds to NPR unless NPR devises an adequate system of financial controls, adopts a reasonable budget and makes its financial records continually accessible to CPB.
Dingell said that when NPR "shows that its house is in order, the amendment expires."
Dingell praised the work of Sharon P. Rockefeller, chairman of the CPB board, who attended the hearing. He also advised the committee that the General Accounting Office is proceeding with an audit of NPR.
He released a letter from the GAO stating that "particular emphasis" will be placed on "identifying management decisions, financial information available and other factors which led to the current financial problem." The GAO is also questioning the "propriety" of spending for "services, travel and joint venture items" in 1983, according to the letter.