Federal Communications Chairman Ajit Pai told members of the Senate that the Commission is moving ahead with cost-cutting initiatives that are already on track to save $1.1 million annually.

During the hearing, Pai said the Commission expects to save some $851,000 each year through the closure of an off-site warehouse and improvements to its internal mail service. An additional $280,000 in savings is anticipated to come from slashing the number of on-site printers and copy-machines in FCC offices, he said. Pai said investigations into further cost-saving moves will continue.

Pai’s comments came in a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee, during which Pai – on behalf of the FCC – presented a budget requesting $322 million in funding for the fiscal 2018 year. That figure represents a 5.2 percent drop from fiscal 2017’s spending level of $339.8 million, he noted. Pai’s budget also calls for a five percent reduction in the spectrum auction cap, dipping from $117 million to $111.15 million. The savings there, he said, are possible thanks to a scale-down of work associated with the recent broadcast incentive auction.

But while Pai touted efforts to slash costs, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said the FCC is operating with a skeleton crew of employees, noting staffing levels are at their lowest point in 30 years. While efficiencies have been created in some departments, the reduced staffing has forced other employees to double their workloads, often with little or no change in compensation, she said.

Clyburn noted a recent Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey showed nearly 40 percent of FCC employees feel they don’t have enough resources to get their jobs done. Further budget cuts will exacerbate this crunch, she said, which will be a big problem in terms of allowing the FCC to carry out its function.

“An understaffed FCC undermines our core mission of protecting consumers, advancing competition, and ensuring the reliability and resiliency of public safety communications,” Clyburn warned. “Additionally, when employees are forced to work unpaid overtime to get the job done, not only can this accelerate staff turnover or burn-out but it may force employees to violate provisions of the Antideficiency Act.”

Still, Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, who also testified at the hearing, advocated for shifting some of those limited resources to the Commission’s Universal Service Fund in the Wireline Competition Bureau.

"Many vital projects to expand broadband to unserved communities come from the individuals that oversee these issues and yet the total number of staff working on them is surprisingly small. Affected industry are stunned to learn that only a dozen or so people are working on the High-Cost program, a critical part of our nearly $9 billion fund," O'Rielly said. "Wireline certainly qualifies as one of the Commission’s workhorse bureaus, and it has been noticed that necessary changes to our programs have been put on hold for lack of resources. However, I believe that this issue can be addressed through reallocating resources within the agency, thereby avoiding increases in overall personnel."