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FCC's 1980's Flint-like Lead Issue

The frequent news stories on all media on the lead crisis of Flint MI and apparent indifference throughout many layers of government reminded me of an old issue at FCC in the 1980's under FCC's first Managing Director, Ed Minkel. Now I must admit that I have mixed feelings about Ed, especially since he signed the letter that was an attempt to finalize my dismissal from FCC. (The letter is dated 12/29/86, but I was told of this plan a few weeks before the 5/9/85 Commission meeting that adopted the unlicensed ISM band rules in Docket 81-413 that are the basis of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee and a lot of other products.)

A reliable source in the Office of the Managing Director, knowing that I was the victim of their bosses' efforts, told me in the mid 1980 that FCC tested the lead levels in water coolers in its various buildings near the corner of 20th and M St., NW and found that the lead levels in the main FCC building at 1919 M St. exceeded a new EPA regulation that would be going into effect.

What did FCC do?

  • Provide lead free water to all staff members?
  • At least provide it to all pregnant staff members?
  • Advise the staff of the issue so they could make their own decisions?


The Office of the Managing Director management swore their staff to secrecy on this issue and proceeded to make repairs to get the lead level down to EPA standards before the new regulations went into effect. Did the Chairman know? Possibly. Did the commissioners know? Probably not.

So you may ask, isn't some level of lead exposure for a small time safe? Here's what EPA says:


This type of cynical attitude towards the FCC staff has been part of FCC's DNA going back decades. While I did not necessarily agree with all of Chmn. Powell's telecom policy positions, he was a welcome breath of fresh air. For example, he restored a reasonable training budget for the FCC staff as a whole, not just a few elite senior staffers and reinstated the master's degree program for Commission engineers that had been unfunded for over two decades.

I suspect because Powell had been a junior military officer and had grown up in a military family he understood the importance of motivating staffers and
earning their respect. Most other chairmen in memory came from small organizations and lacked management experience in a 2000 person organization. Typically the chair and commissioners are focused on getting as much done as possible during their terms with little concern about the infrastructure of the organization including its staff. But I must admit that the lead coverup of the 1980s was a new low in FCC mistreatment of its staff.

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