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Snowe Sees Need for More FCC Technical Experts

Introduces measure to add tech staffers back to commissioners' staffs

The “FCC Commissioners’ Technical Resource Enhancement Act,” introduced by Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine in the Senate this week, is interesting.

As we’ve reported, the measure would add an additional staff position to each of the five commissioner offices of the Federal Communications Commission. The extra staffer would need to be an electrical engineer or computer scientist.

In her statement printed in the Congressional Record, Snowe said it’s “imperative” the commissioners have staff on hand with the technical expertise to make informed decisions as telecommunications technology advances. Having both legal and technical staff is essential as commissioners address increasingly complex technical and legal matters, according to the senator.

“While the Office of Engineering and Technology, OET, has been and will continue to be a valuable resource, there has been concern in the technical community about the depletion of engineering expertise at the commission,” stated Snowe.

“From 1995 to 2001, the FCC’s engineering staff dropped by more than 20 percent. And at the time, more than 40 percent of the engineering staff were to be eligible for retirement between 2001 and 2005.” More recently, Snowe points out, the agency’s managing director has found that the commission has a shortage of network engineers.

Several engineering membership and standards bodies have weighed in voicing concern about what they say is the lack of technical depth at the FCC.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers sent a letter in June of 2008 to then-Chairman Kevin Martin, writing: “Despite the generally excellent nature of its internal staff, given all of the technical issues within the FCC’s jurisdiction, it may be prudent to seek means to supplement the internal technical capabilities of the commission.”

The Society of Broadcast Engineers has outlined that one of its legislative goals for 2009–10 is to promote the maintenance or increase of technical expertise within the commission “to ensure that decision-making by the FCC is based on technical investigation, studies and evaluation rather than political expenditures.”

Years ago there were engineers on the staffs of each commissioner. Adding more technical experts at the agency can only be a win-win and I’m thinking may lead to quicker decisions in some cases. Let’s hope the Commerce Committee takes up the measure soon. Tell me what you think at [email protected].