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Could S.2881 Really Cost $7 Million?

CBO estimate to add engineers to commissioner staffs seems high, says engineer

Are congressional efforts to add an engineering assistant for each commissioner in jeopardy because of a high price tag? Possibly.

The Congressional Budget Office has issued a cost estimate of $7 million to implement S.2881, a measure from Senator Olympia Snowe, R-Maine. We last told you that the bill had been reported out of the Senate Commerce Committee in March; it is not yet slated for a vote on the Senate floor.

S. 2881 would authorize the FCC to appoint an electrical engineer or computer scientist to the staff of each of the agency’s commissioners. The bill also would authorize the appropriation of $1 million in fiscal 2011 and 2012 to evaluate the commission’s technical and engineering resources to determine whether it has adequate resources to evaluate the technical aspects of its rulemaking decisions.

The CBO estimate (PDF) of $7 million is over a five-year period, from the late part of 2011 through late 2015. The CBO figures about $1 million per year would cover salaries and overhead for the additional staff and the bill authorizes an additional million for years 2011 and 2012 to cover the costs of the studies.

Leaving out the $2 million for the study, that leaves a five-year cost of $5 million. That total divided by five years, divided by five commissioners is about $200,000/year. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the top General Service pay scale for 2010 in the Washington area is $155,500/year, and that’s for the highest possible level, a GS15, Step 10.

One engineer in the know on this issue figures that if you add in FICA, 401k matching and medical insurance probably adds another $45,000 to those annual salaries, so he’s guesstimating the real cost of those salaries at $245,000 per year per engineering assistant.

It sounds like these new engineers may be among the better-paid staffers at the commission.