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Revamp of FCC Field Operations Bittersweet to Some

Fewer offices closed than originally proposed, but changes significantly reduce staff

An accounting of the changes being made in FCC Enforcement Bureau field operations reveals sizable cuts to both offices and staff, with 44 jobs on the chopping block. And yet the final cuts are not as deep as originally proposed by the FCC earlier this year, with some in the industry placated by the final tally.

The original proposal, released in March via a memo from the chief of the FCC Enforcement Bureau, would have reduced the number of field agents, reduced the number of director positions, cut support staff and shrunk the number of field offices from 24 to eight. Criticism of the plan came swiftly from some in Congress, broadcasters and public safety groups.

The final decision, released July 16, will close 11 offices, eliminate 44 jobs and create more stringent employment requirements for field officers. The decision cuts deep, but retains more staff and offices in far-flung locales like Hawaii.

The biggest change brought about by the final order is the elimination of 11 field offices, which leaves the nation’s largest state, Alaska, without an operating office, and the second largest, Texas, with only one. The West Coast will lose two offices, the East Coast will lose four and the Midwest, which had been served by a lone office in Kansas City, will see its main branch closed outright. The agency said there is a plan to maintain a field presence in Alaska and Puerto Rico, with field agents rotating periodically through Kansas City. Specialized “tiger teams” will fly in and help when needed.

At a press conference after the ruling, it was revealed that there are 98 employees now in the field as part of the Enforcement Bureau’s field op team. That will be cut down to 54 after the reorganization.

According to an FCC source, the reorganization will significantly reduce field office staff and improve efficiency by “right-sizing the management,” effectively reducing a 4:1 staff-to-manager ratio down to 10:1.

The employment qualifications for field operations members are also more stringent. All field agents will now be required to have electrical engineering backgrounds. As a result, six compliance specialists will lose their jobs.

The agency plans to implement a “nationwide outplacement effort” to help discharged employees find new positions.

The NAB said last week that it appreciates the compromise that went into keeping open “many more enforcement offices than was originally proposed,” said NAB Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton, pointing to the ongoing need to target and track pirate radio operations.

The Society of Broadcast Engineers said it remains to be seen how effective this new structure will prove. “There are still some very good career engineers in the field offices that will be closed whose skills and knowledge should not have been lost,” the SBE stated. “This is a shame. The FCC process completely lacked transparency and public responsiveness. There were far better methods of saving Enforcement Bureau money than the means recommended.

“But the society is pleased that its actions have contributed positively to a better outcome than that originally proposed,” the SBE stated.

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