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25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
A series of posts describing how this all came about. (Click on picture above)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Engineer Staffing and Recruiting at FCC:
The Accumulated Impact of Yo-yo Budgets and Poor Planning

On August 7th, the FCC website had an unusual item on the main page:

FCC Seeks Applicants for 2006/2007 Engineer-in-Training Program.

News Release: Acrobat

Those of you who deal with the FCC regularly these days know that it is like dealing with the kremlin during the cold war - things are rarely what they seem and one must try to "read the tea leaves" to find out what is really happening. The present secrecy style of the "8th Floor" makes the Bush White House look like a model of transparency. So let me explain my interpretation here.

A significant fraction of the FCC's jurisdiction is technical even if it is of little interest to top managers. Large numbers of engineers are needed in FCC to handle routine licensing, radio enfocement, equipment authroization, and technical (usually Title III) rulemakings. While I don't have the current staffing numbers, engineers have usually outnumbered lawyers at FCC in terms of total numbers -- obviously not in positions of policy influence.

Over the past 20+ years the FCC has had yo-yo budgets as the "bureaucracy" has fallen in and out of favor with Congress and the White House. FCC is unusual in the federal bureaucracy in that it has one of the highest proportions of its budget going to personnel costs of any agency. (This is due to the lack of operational programs such as research or giving away money to people.) Any budget hiccup has a direct impact on personnel budgets and most FCC chairman over the past 2 decades had responded to budget problems by keeping staff but cutting hiring and training. Indeed, I believe that the only RIF (reduction-in-force) in 30 years was associated with closing some field offices during the Hundt chairmanship. The accumulation of these hiring freezes over 2 decades, coupled with many years of little or no training budget has been disastrous for technical staffing. (I must note positively that Chairman Powell dramatically reversed the decline of training budgets with his glitzy "FCC University" program.)

So today the FCC has tons of engineers in their 50s with 20 + years of experience who are eligible to retire and are doing so. Given the internal atmosphere at the FCC these days and the generous retirement benefits they are entitled to, especially if they joined in the 70s and are in the CSRS system, who would blame them! There is a severe shortfall of people behind them with 10-20 years experience due to the accumulation of hiring freezes and those who are there did not have the mid-career training they should have to keep them up to date.

So the FCC has reinstituted its on again/off again engineer-in-training program for entry level engineers. Of course, they missed the recruiting window for the Class of 2006 and with their current window of hiring in August and October are likely to pick up the dregs that no one else wanted to hire. Or perhaps the ones who were too spaced out to remember to look for a job their senior year? If you want good people, you have to recruit at college campuses early in the school year! You have to provide material that shows you are an attractive place to work and where there is important work. Do you see this on the FCC website?

If you have the patience to click throught the several layers ( Hint: start here.) needed to reach the formal announcement for these entry level jobs, you will find this description of the "job summary":
Job Summary:
The FCC is an independent
United States government agency, directly
responsible to Congress. The FCC was established
by the Communications Act of 1934 and is charged
with regulating interstate and international
communications by radio, television, wire,
satellite and cable. The FCC's jurisdiction
covers the 50 states, the District of Columbia,
and U.S. possessions.

Now is this what you would call a "job summary"? (It as actually the same text used for all the other jobs announced on the FCC website.) Some mindless bureaucrat just filled the space with the first verbiage he/she could find! Will this make a good impression on top students?

Note the typography. It is the same here as on the FCC website. Pica font (just like old typewriters) for the heading, with the text in the same size Geneva or Helvetica. Most 7th graders would be embarrassed to have such HTML on their web site!

Most technical employers and even government agencies seeking to hire recent graduates talk about the graduate educational opportunities they have available. Does FCC? Does FCC want people with no interest in continuing their technical education? (Well kept secret: FCC has a small program for selecting employees for a Master's degree and giving them top priority for training funds each year. This was started by Ed Thomas when he was head of OET.)

So what can be done?

  • Look at your recruiting website and try to make it as unbureaucratic as possible with useful information about what the jobs are actually about and why they are important.
  • Emphasize continuing education - it is key to recruiting and keeping good engineers.
  • Seriously consider rotation of entry level people to give them broad experience early in their careers. (See NRC for an example.)
  • Go to top engineering colleges this Fall and recruit when you have a chance.
  • Tell the FCC commissioners that techical staffing and continuing education is important.
  • Tell Congress that yo-yo personnel budgets and training budgets based on scraps have an inevitable result on the whole telecom industry.

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