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Sequestration could lead to loss of engineers at FCC

Mignon Clyburn, the acting chairwoman at the FCC, told a Senate appropriations subcommittee last week that budget sequestration — coupled with pay freezes — could lead to a loss of “the next generation of top-notch engineers, economists, attorneys and support staff as the current generation retires” at the FCC. 

Clyburn also said the budget cuts could slow the processing of thousands of applications for services. The FCC, she said, now processes more than 300,000 each year.

“Television, radio, TV translators and other media services comprise 24,435 of these applications,” she said.

“Processing these applications is becoming more difficult as we face staffing shortages,” she added. “The Commission maintains a highly skilled workforce of engineers, economists and attorneys, along with trained technical staff to carry out our core mission. But we have slowed backfilling positions, resulting in our lowest FTE levels in three decades, even as we are being asked to authorize more innovative products and oversee an increasingly complex and rapidly evolving communications marketplace. 

“The inevitable results are slowdowns in application processing, which will impede progress and economic development and have a negative, cascading impact on all Commission operations — from spectrum development to auctions,” Clyburn told the subcommittee.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives wants to give the FCC only $320 million for 2014, said Subcommittee Chairman Tom Udall (D-NM). The FCC says it needs $360 million.

Clyburn said the FCC is already doing less thanks to the sequester and is operating on $322 million in 2013, though it needed $346.7 million. She said the commission already been forced to “cut corners” to continue to meet “mission critical” objectives.

“The Commission has dramatically reduced spending, and these reductions do not come without programmatic costs,” Clyburn added.

Those costs include not replacing outdated and failing equipment, turning off the air conditioning system early during the heat of the summer when staffers are still working, routine shortages in supplies, cancelation of contracts and bare-bones travel budgets.

Clyburn noted that the FCC pays for its own budget from user fees, so that the sequester is actually siphoning off some of that money.

“Instead of building up the industry’s foundation, serving the needs of consumers and funding dynamic new products and services, FCC licensees paid an extra $17 million in funds that were deposited directly into the U.S. Treasury,” she said.