Sens. Snowe and Kaufman want more expertise at FCC

Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) Monday introduced a bill aiming to boost the technical resources and expertise at the Federal Communications Commission.

The legislation would require the National Academy of Sciences to do a study to examine the technical policy decision-making process and the availability of technical personnel at the agency.

“It is critical that we include engineers in our nation’s technical policy and decision-making, at the FCC and across the government,” said Kaufman. “Professionals in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics have always been our nation’s problem-solvers. I am pleased that this study will explore the implications and offer recommendations for addressing the decline of engineers in this important agency.”

FCC Commissioners and the tech community have raised concerns about the lack of technical resources and expertise at the agency, which is charged with enacting complex policies that affect the way every American communicates and accesses information.

In 1948, the FCC had 720 engineers on staff. Today it has fewer than 300 — a 62 percent drop.

The study would address the FCC's technical policy decision-making process, current staffing levels and recruiting processes for technical staff and engineers. The bill authorizes $1 million over two years to conduct the research.

The FCC plans to add 75 new staffers with its $352 million 2011 budget, it said at its February meeting.

Snowe, along with Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), in December introduced legislation to allow FCC Commissioners to hire an electrical engineer or computer scientist as an additional staff member to bolster each office's technical expertise.