Leaders of the US House Energy and Commerce Committee have reached agreement with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to amend the Commission’s plans — announced in March — to close FCC field offices. Under the revised plan, the FCC will keep 15 of its 24 field offices open. The plan would “ensure better rapid response capabilities for the West, provide a mechanism for escalating interference complaints, improve enforcement of the FCC’s rules against pirate radio operators, and prevent the Commission from transferring field office jobs to FCC Headquarters,” a Committee media release said. The FCC has been under pressure from lawmakers and others to step back from the its plan to close two-thirds of its field offices.
“We found a good solution that makes sense. These changes will keep field offices open in strategic locations and help ensure that the commission can fulfill its responsibilities to the public and public safety communities,” said Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, W7EQI. “This agreement strikes a balance between the important work of FCC field agents and streamlining field operations to ensure the efficient use of taxpayer dollars. Positive outcomes often result from collaborative work. This agreement represents just such an effort.”
As a result of the announced agreement a June 11 hearing of Walden’s subcommittee to address the proposed closings was cancelled. ARRL General Counsel Chris Imlay, W3KD, was among those prepared to testify at the session.
The closure plans were revealed earlier this year via an apparently leaked internal FCC Enforcement Bureau (EB) memorandum that indicated Bureau planned to ask the full Commission to cut two-thirds of its field offices and eliminate nearly one-half of its field agents. At the same time, the Bureau would develop a so-called “Tiger Team” of field agents as a flexible strike force it could deploy as needed.
After the League learned of the field office closure plans, ARRL CEO David Sumner, K1ZZ, expressed dismay at the proposals, coming “at a time when the Field staff is facing ever-increasing challenges.” Sumner also had expressed concern “that there is already no sense of urgency in the FCC’s enforcement activities targeting spectrum polluters, such as utilities with noisy power lines, or the few violators in our own ranks.” The League has been working behind the scenes at the FCC and on Capitol Hill to make a case that more enforcement leads to better compliance in all services.
Under the proposals, initiated last fall, the field office geographic footprint would have been reduced from 24 sites to 8 sites, with the EB set to “pre-position” equipment in several other strategic locations. Offices already slated to remain open are New York City; Columbia, Maryland — the site of the Bureau’s HF Direction-Finding Center; Chicago; Atlanta; Miami; Dallas; Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The other offices the FCC plans to keep open were not announced.
“Communities across America will continue to be served, even as the Commission becomes more efficient — it’s a win-win,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton of Michigan. “It also demonstrates how much we can accomplish when we work together to tackle the many tough issues we face.”