While it has a good section on many of the technical aspects of spectrum policy (Chapter 5 - RF Engineering and Link Budget), the non engineer can set that aside for review as needed. However, the wireless engineering program that wants to use this for a textbook will find that the chapter adds a key part of technical anises that is not normally addressed in electrical engineering education. Many such engineering programs take spectrum policies as coming direct from Mt. Sinai and being immutable. Rather this section shows how technical rules are developed from physical phenomena and estimates of reasonable radio equipment performance which inevitably varies with both equipment cost and progress in technology. A whole chapter is devoted to ITU issues and the parallel recent role of standards development organizations/SDOs. There is a good discussion of the goals of national spectrum management followed by more detail on regulatory arrangements in China, France, UK, and US.
A final chapter on RF safety is more technical than the rest of the book but is a convenient reference to have around when the topic comes up.
While there is discussion of radio propagation in Chapter 5, the focus is on traditional bands and nothing is said about the current "spectrum frontier" of millimeter waves and how the propagation there is so different than the lower traditional bands. But, then again, most spectrum management controversies involved these lower bands. and they will be the interest of most readers. But with that limitation it does an excellent job covering many different aspects of this interdisciplinary field.
Plum Book" - which GPO produces with a plum colored cover showing they have a good sense of humor.
This book lists all the political jobs in the federal government and all the senior jobs that could be occupied by political appointees. While FCC staffing info is theoretically public information with respect to position title,job holder's name and salary, in reality this information is not readily available. But in the Plum Book we get a readily available snapshot that is illuminating. As a public service here is a link to the 3 pages that deal with FCC. From the FCC listings we can see how many senior positions there are at FCC, which are held by political appointees and which are held by career appointees.
But then consider the following tweet from Chairman's Office official Gigi Sohn:
A little further down in the Plum Book we see that Mr. DelNero is a "career incumbent" who is leaving FCC a little less than 3 years after joining it from Covington & Burling. What is going on?
While there are some that may be critical of everything the current FCC leadership has done, this involves a practice that has been going on for decades at FCC under BOTH parties.
The commissioners, their advisors, the senior managers in the Office of Media relations, and the chief of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau are now political appointees and usually have been so in the past. The position of general counsel has nominally alternated back and forth between career and political over the years. My old boss at OET, Ed Thomas, chose to be chief of that office as a political appointee although he certainly was qualified for a career appointment due to his management and technical experience. Ed thought it would give him more prestige in dealing with political appointees at other agencies.
But most of the other bureau/office chiefs and some of their deputies are de facto political appointees who have been masquerading as career appointees and will leave in droves in the next few weeks. This masquerading has several "advantages" to the individuals involved:
- It gets around limits on the number of political appointees at FCC and allows the Chairman to stack senior managers with people who have unambiguous loyalty to him
- Career senior officials have to be vetted by OPM and committees of actual career civil servants for both job related skills and management experience. Some younger lawyers from private practice may not qualify under such standards
- Only career senior officials are eligible for special SES "performance awards"/bonuses of 5-20% of their normal salary, so having a career appointment has financial benefits
But this decades old bipartisan procedure has real downsides also.
- It discourages the development of an effective tier of top career civil servants who are politically neutral and act in the interests of the agency with loyalty to the current leadership. You say this is impossible? Consider Bob Pepper the chief of the former Office of Plans and Policy who held senior policy jobs and was a trusted advisor to chairman of both parties. OET Chief Julius Knapp has only served in that position under the current administration but has been widely viewed as politically neural during his long tenure as deputy in OET. It is hard to have such a career path at FCC now and as a result sometimes career civil servants are not as objective as they should be. Some may tell political people what they want to hear and some may secretly drag their feet on policies they disagree with. Both are inappropriate behavior for career civil servants and the fear of this is why political appointees want a thorough house cleaning.
- This system keeps much of the SES bonus pools away from real career civil servants where Congress directed it to go, further discouraging them.
- It results in large flux of senior managers with FCC chairman transitions. This is not just when the party in the White House changes. I recall a massive "career incumbent" shakeup when Chmn. Fowler left and was replace by Chmn. Sikes near the end of the Reagan Administration. This large group of senior changes decreases FCC productivity and effectiveness.
When my wife worked at NRC she reported no influx of political appointees masquerading as career civil servants into senior manage positions. NRC has a career civil service management structure that is loyal to the institution. More of this at FCC would probably help FCC effectiveness and allow the new leadership to have on hand a loyal and effective team to advise them and implement the desired policies.
Such a change cannot be implemented immediately because the current career civil servants have been affected by past practices, but I hope the next Commission will recognize the the large level of politicization of senior managers at FCC is really counterproductive. Once this problem is recognized it can start considering options for a slow and deliberate change in senior staffing and building up the skills of career civil servants to make FCC more effective.
Older Plum Books for comparison
Is it obvious to others why the bureau chief who deals with public safety should be a political appointee? It has been since this bureau was created so both parties have been behaving the same way. But does it really make sense?
This week the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government report was issued as it has been every year since the Bush 43 administration fostered the start of this program in 2003 and made surveys mandatory for Executive Branch agencies. FCC participation was optional and it dodged the survey until the 2009 survey - based on 2008 data collection during the Martin chairmanship. Now the purpose of FCC is not to amuse its staff and keep them happy. But enlightened management knows that you can get more done if everyone on the team understands goals and works in the same direction. Indeed, if they don't why have 1500-2000 people sitting around.
During my career at FCC Chmn. Michael Powell seemed to be the best leader at motivating the staff. Chmn. Kevin Martin, his immediate successor, the worst. Both Republicans. Most FCC chairs in recent history had essentially no management experience. They were generally Hill staffers or lawyers in private practice. Chmn. Wheeler despite other flaws, had at least directed 2 trade associations with a few hundred employees. Chmn. Powell did not have this direct experience, but he grew up in the family of a senior military officer and no doubt learned from his father how to be a leader of those in your unit. He also had been a junior military officer before his career was wrecked by a near fatal training accident. Having been a junior officer myself, I know that leadership training is a key part of preparation for commissioning. I doubt if many other FCC chairs have had comparable training.
So let's look at this year's results:
FCC had a dismal score during the Martin chairmanship as morale plummeted. This was particularly striking after the enlightened workplace leadership of Chmn. Powell. While Chmn. Genachowski was controversial for some of his policies, he at least made a wonderful turnaround in workplace morale at FCC.
So let's hope in the next few years we can have both good staff morale at FCC and better 8th Floor harmony too.
In practice, IRAC has had a major role in federal spectrum policy development and the top leadership of NTIA rarely overrules its decisions. Indeed, having sat in on may IRAC meetings it is clear that in the view of many IRAC members, NTIA is the law firm that represents their views to FCC and Congress and its not a regulatory agency. These members also tend to view the NTIA Office of Spectrum Management as the "IRAC Secretariat" -implementing the will of IRAC and recording the spectrum assignments that it has approved. Indeed a review of the spectrum report coauthored by Nobel laureate Ronald Coase in the early 1960s, "Problems of Radio Frequency Allocation" shows not much has changed int eh decades since it was written. In particular, the section entitled "The Work of the Interdepartment Radio Advisory Committee" may be the most accurate description of how IRAC worked publicly available although there have been some minor changes over the decades. Here is a section from the Coase report:
Would the pending MOBILE NOW Act and previously congressionally mandated reallocations of federal spectrum to nonfederal use have been necessary of NTIA and FCC had been working together in the national interest? Do the delays and uncertainties of needing Congress to act on these impose real costs on economic growth? While the cellular industry has the political influence to get legislative support for such reallocations, other spectrum users may not - particularly those in the early stages of their business plans - do not have enough political influence but may have significant economic potential.
The irony is that the congressionally mandated reallocations of the past 2 decades have resulted in antagonisms against reallocation of federal spectrum to non federal government users so requests for access to federal spectrum from less politically connected parties tend to get at best a slow response from NTIA.
I even had a client who was a military contractor who requested brief access to passive spectrum near 100 GHz that had no interference risk to any actual passive systems and the initial application was rejected by NTIA because one IRAC member did like the idea of it. It took a month of a DoD IRAC member beating up on the objecting IRAC member before be finally relented and dropped his objection. It did not appear that during this pendency any NTIA employees ever asked the objecting agency for a "reality check" to see if there was any technical merit to their objection. If this is how they handle requests of military contractors, imagine how privately funded research from non-CTIA members is handled?
These posts will focus on spectrum policy issues and innovation. While net neutrality, privacy and competition are key issues, many others speak on them and they will not be addressed here.
For the first posting let me point out the spectrum policy recommendations that have been made by IEEE-USA, the US arm of the transnational electrical engineering society that covers all the technical aspects of FCC jurisdiction. These are in a document entitled "Improving U.S. Spectrum Policy Deliberations in the Period 2017-2021". Although they focus on FCC, some also address related NTIA federal spectrum management issues because FCC's §301 jurisdiction is so closely connected to NTIA's delegated authority of §305. The recommendations are in 3 different areas. Below offer the areas and the basic commendations in each. More discussion is in the IEEE-USA document.
- FCC and NTIA should explicitly acknowledge the role of Section 7 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, and the intent of Congress to encourage new communications technology and services. These agencies should adopt transparent procedures for determining which innovations are subject to this statute and should make readily available information on such proceedings. The FCC and NTIA should recommend changes in the statute in a timely way, if the current terms of Section 7 are deemed not practical.
- Petitions for rule changes and clarifications are key issues in the regulation of the dynamic telecommunications industry. FCC should act on such petitions in a more transparent way, and make available information on petitions and their status on a consistent timely schedule.
Improved technical resources for FCC and NTIA to improve decision making:
- In selecting presidential appointments to FCC, NTIA, and the State Department in communications policy functions consideration should be given to individuals with experience in information and communications technology (ICT), to balance the backgrounds of the officials in these key positions.
- FCC commissioners should consider appointing individuals with experience in information and communications technology (ICT). as one of their three assistants, allowed by law.
- FCC and NTIA should supplement their existing Technological Advisory Council (TAC) and Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee (CSMAC), which consist mainly of representatives of major communications firms, with a new advisory committee that serves both agencies and focuses on independent review of options for resolving spectrum conflicts and identifying outdated policies. The new group should be modeled on the EPA Science Advisory Board and the NRC Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards and members should have the necessary security clearances to deal with issues involving classified federal government spectrum users, if so requested.
- FCC and NTIA should have the resources to contract with the National Academy of Science’s National Research Council (NAS/NRC), Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs) and private analysis contractors, to supplement their internal staffs on novel technical policy questions where they lack the appropriate internal resources.
- The NTIA and FCC technical staffs are key to the long-term success of U.S. spectrum policy. Recruiting and developing the careers of these personnel should be done using the best practices of other agencies involved in technical policy development.
Other Issues to Stimulate Innovation:
- The executive branch should act to review and implement the recommendations for federal spectrum management reform in Sections 5.2 – 5.6 of the July 2012 President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) report, “Realizing the Full Potential of Government-Held Spectrum,” to facilitate the reallocation and sharing of federal spectrum for private sector use.
- FCC and NTIA should review, and consider adopting the IEEE-USA recommendations for clarifying harmful interference.
- FCC should complete action in a timely way on Docket 09-157, which deals with wireless technical innovation.