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FCC Hiring: Why is recruiting of lawyers so different than for engineers?

Last week FCC released the PN shown at left which announces that “it will accept applications from graduating law students and current judicial clerks for its Fall 2013 Attorney Honors Program”. FCC has hundreds of attorneys as well as hundreds of engineers so it makes sense to recruit them both in a systematic way to get the best people available for entry level positions. But let’s contrast this with the recruiting of engineers for FCC career jobs.

The recruiting of lawyers at the beginning of the Fall term is a long standing tradition at FCC that has been discussed here before. The only way to get the best people is to go when recruiting of the graduating class starts. Yet for engineers, recruiting must always wait until the budget is finalized which in the current political environment is in the Spring. Indeed, this year FCC did not even officially announce jobs for entry level engineers until May! While it is necessary for FCC managers to say they have hired great engineers, it is clear that the pickings are pretty slim if you wait until late in the school year to even look.

On the webpage for the FCC lawyer recruiting program it states

“Specific placements within the agency will be based on the participant’s interests and experience and the needs of the FCC. Participants may have the opportunity to rotate to a new assignment within the agency at the end of their first year. During their two years in the Honors Program, attorneys also will be afforded professional and educational opportunities designed specifically for Program participants.”

While I worked at FCC I repeatedly pushed for an analogous rotation program for entry level engineers. It was specifically rejected because the bureau chiefs who employ engineers are interested in their near term problems which are generally processing delays for various types of licenses and view entry level engineers as “cannon fodder” to fight such processing battles. The concept of development of staff engineers for future work in policy areas is not on their mind.

Note that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission explicitly offers rotations for entry level hires in both engineering and legal fields. The National Security Agency, reportedly the government largest employer of electrical engineers, offers new employees various types of career development to both attract good applicants and enhance their careers.

When I joined FCC, the headquarters engineering staff included some individuals who had started in the old FOB (now EB) in enforcement field offices who had solved real problems “outside the beltway” and knew the operational aspects of the telecom industry. In myopic budgeting decisions this has become very rare because FCC now jumps through hoops to avoid paying any relocation costs for personnel and has essentially told field personnel not to expect a job in DC unless they agree to not ask for any relocation costs. James McKinney, Carlos Roberts, and Dick Smith are all FOB field alumni who moved to DC and became bureau/office chiefs. This lack of mobility both hurts recruiting and hurts engineering staff development.

When I was on active duty in the Air Force at the end of the Viet Nam War, I was puzzled why the Air Force was forcing people out to downsize at the same time it was recruiting new entry level enlisted men and officers. I asked a wise old colonel I worked with and he explained it very simply and clearly: The US Air Force will be around 10 years, 20 years and more from now at some size that is hard to predict. It will always need a mixture of people with differing years of experience and differing ranks. If you turn off the entry spigot or get the wrong people, than years into the future there will be major staffing problems.

That is problem with FCC. Staffing people look at near term goals not long term institutional needs. I do not know how big FCC will be in 2020. I do not know how many engineers it will need in 2020. But I do know that FCC, or any organization that might replace it, will need a mixture of high quality engineers with a mix of experiences.
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