Forced under political pressure to take a few steps back from its initial proposal to eliminate two-thirds of its Enforcement Bureau field offices, the FCC has announced its final, scaled-down plan to reorganize its field resources. In an Order released July 16, the Commission said it would close 11 of its 24 field offices and relocate three others to nearby FCC-owned sites. In slimming down its field resources and upgrading those that remain, the FCC said it was acting in the name of efficiency and economy as well as to modernize a system model adopted 2 decades ago.
“Since then, technological changes and increasingly limited resources have created the need to take a fresh look at the [Enforcement] Bureau’s field operations,” the FCC Order said. The FCC said it has completed “a full review” of the field organization and concluded that it needs to concentrate its field resources “in urban areas, where the need for them is greatest.”
ARRL CEO David Sumner, K1ZZ, addressed the topic of the FCC’s planned field office closures in his “It Seems to Us” editorial in the August edition of QST. “The challenges the FCC faces in policing the radio spectrum are greater than ever and increasing every day,” Sumner wrote. “Now is hardly the time to reduce its enforcement resources.”
Sumner allowed, however, that the success of the FCC’s enforcement efforts is not measured in the number of field offices but in the program’s effectiveness in deterring bad on-the-air behavior and resolving interference complaints from such sources as power lines and “grow lamp” ballasts.
“If FCC enforcement was accomplishing everything we might wish and the revised plans promised the same results with greater efficiency, we would be the first to cheer. Sadly, that is not the case,” Sumner said, pointing to an interference case in the State of Washington that has dragged on for 2 years since the FCC first documented the interference. Seattle is one of the field offices set to close.
In a news release, the FCC said its field reorganization plan “aligns the field’s structure, operations, expenses, and equipment with the agency’s priorities,” such as RF interference. “It also prepares the field [organization] to address future enforcement needs in an ever more complex spectrum environment, and aligns field operations to support this mission,” the statement continued. “Through this plan, the Commission is maintaining a commitment to respond in a timely manner to interference issues anywhere in the nation…within one day.”
In addition to Seattle, the FCC is closing its field offices in or near Anchorage, Buffalo, Detroit, Houston, Kansas City, Norfolk, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Juan (Puerto Rico), and Tampa. Enforcement Bureau field offices in or near Atlanta, San Francisco, and Columbia (Maryland) will relocate to FCC-owned sites nearby or in the same metropolitan areas. Columbia is where the FCC’s HF Direction Finding (HFDF) facility is located. The FCC said relocated offices as well as those remaining open in or near New York City, Miami, Dallas, Chicago, Boston, Denver, Honolulu, New Orleans, Portland (Oregon), and Los Angeles “will be staffed and equipped to maintain the Commission’s Field program.” Rapid deployment teams will be stationed in Columbia and Denver to supplement enforcement efforts of other field offices as necessary and to “support high-priority enforcement actions nationwide,” the FCC said in a news release.
The FCC acknowledged the inevitability of layoffs, although it did not indicate how many employees were likely to be furloughed. It said the Enforcement Bureau will contract with local personnel to maintain a field presence in Alaska and Puerto Rico and periodically dispatch field agents to Kansas City. The Commission said it would mount a nationwide outplacement effort to assist any employees displaced as a result of the field reorganization.
According to the FCC Order, the field organization will initiate a program to update equipment and employee skills “to address the likely issues that will accompany new and expanded uses of spectrum.” All field agents will be required to have a background in electrical engineering. The program would include expanded use of remotely operated monitoring equipment and portable devices that can assess interference issues in bands expected to experience heavy spectrum use.
In its news release, the FCC said the reorganization will “save millions of dollars annually after implementation is complete.” The Commission said it would initially apply any net savings to its effort to update equipment and enhance employee skills. No net savings could be used to increase the number of full-time, non-field-related employees in the Enforcement Bureau’s headquarters office.
“The Commission has determined to make changes to the Field [organization] in order to create a more effective organization within the limits of our budgetary constraints,” the FCC concluded.