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.”

Clyburn also cautioned the $5.8 million cut from the spectrum auction program is unwise given the fact that there are several more auctions currently in the pipeline.

“Our auctions produce a tremendous return on investment and are a win-win for consumers, industry, and the federal government,” Clyburn added. “With 5G on the horizon, we cannot just think in the short-term, which means providing the funding necessary to administer timely and efficiently run auctions. A sustained investment in our auctions program will help unlock the next generation of wireless broadband, giving our communities the much needed fuel for growth and sustainability and ensuring that America remains a leader in wireless innovation.”

Commissioner Michael O’Rielly also testified at the hearing, advocating for additional resources for the Commission’s Universal Service Fund.