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For Pai and O’Rielly, Mixed Feelings About FCC Plan

Commissioners express concerns over agent treatment, office eliminations

Two commissioners expressed doubts about a new plan approved by the FCC to modernize Enforcement Bureau field operations, even as they concurred in the vote.

The commission approved the plan to modernize the agency’s field operations, including closing 11 offices, setting up several on-the-go teams to service the remaining offices and retooling qualifications to be a field agent.

“Our review concludes that our field resources should be concentrated in urban areas where the need for them is greatest,” the commission said in its order. According to the commission, these revisions will cut down on costs, make better use of existing agency resources, improve efficiency and allow for more effective radio interference detection.

But there was quick reaction from Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly, the Republican members of the five-member panel. They said that the plan was developed with inadequate input from field personnel and that the bar has been set unnecessarily high when it came to restructuring the employment requirements for field agents.

In particular, O’Rielly called out the ruling for giving short shrift to experienced agents whose “on-the-job know-how, management experience and working relationships … may prove to be even more important in delivering real results” than simply installing field agents with an electrical engineering prerequisite.

Both commissioners zeroed some of their concerns on field agent treatment in general.

“The process leading to today’s vote has not treated our field agents with the respect they deserve,” Pai said, adding that the bureau’s field agents are the ones on the ground ferreting out pirate radio operators and resolving interference to ensure public safety communications. “And they play a critical role in ensuring that everyone complies with the commission’s rules,” he said.

“To be sure, were it solely up to me, this plan would look substantially different,” Pai said, pointing to his concerns about the elimination of agents in the field while personnel in the D.C. headquarters of the Enforcement Bureau more than doubled over the last six years.

“I worry that it is a sign of a greater interest in newspaper headlines than bread-and-butter enforcement work — work that is less glamorous but nonetheless critical,” he said.

However, both Pai and O’Rielly voted to concur on the item, saying that input from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the NAB and the CTIA Wireless Association led to improvements from the original plan, which suggested eliminating field offices outright in both the Rocky Mountain and Great Plains regions.

Pai and O’Rielly pointed to challenges ahead, including working on “frayed” relationships between headquarters and agents in the field. Pai said agents cited “inadequate communications” and management concerns with the home office.

“They do not believe that their work is valued,” Pai said. “In the months ahead, we must do what we can to repair this breach and give field agents the support that they need to carry out their important mission.”