Report says size of FCC staff decreased steadily during past decade

The number of employees working at the Federal Communications Commission declined steadily between fiscal 2003 and 2008, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

GAO found that an inability to offer competitive salaries and a lack of workforce planning have made it difficult for FCC to effectively recruit and retain talented employees. In particular, the commission has been hit hard by the departure of engineering staff and economists: FCC lost 10 percent and 14 percent, respectively, of those employees during the five-year period GAO studied.

FCC began started hiring more engineers and economists in fiscal 2007, but for mostly entry-level jobs. Employees with skills in engineering and economics are increasingly important as new technologies and growing economic issues "challenge existing regulatory structures," according to the report. GAO found that FCC has many managers in engineering and economics who will be eligible for retirement by 2011.

Overall, the perception of expertise within the commission among FCC staff was significantly lower than at other federal agencies, GAO said, citing an Office of Personnel Management survey.

FCC staff opinions of "motivation, engagement and views of senior leadership" also were dismal.

FCC has launched initiatives to improve staff motivation and to recruit new talent, but it does not track the effectiveness of such strategies, the report said. Without workforce planning, GAO said it will be difficult for FCC to develop a long-term strategy to hire and retain experienced staff.

Ironically, FCC, which is responsible for regulating communication, has trouble with its own internal communications, according to GAO. There are no written policies to manage collaboration among FCC offices, which can cause confusion and inefficiency, the report said.

GAO recommended that FCC develop performance targets and evaluations for recruiting and use more flexible strategies to increase its workforce. The report also suggested FCC provide clear guidance on internal communication.

FCC generally agreed with report findings, and said it will incorporate GAO's recommendations on workforce planning. But FCC Managing Director Steven VanRoekel, disagreed with GAO's conclusion regarding the loss of expertise as a result of more retirements. "While agreeing that it is critical that the agency maintain needed expertise for effective decision making, I disagree that the commission has difficulty recruiting top candidates," he said. "As [FCC] Chairman [Julius] Genachowski told Congress recently, revitalizing and retooling the FCC will be a marathon, not a sprint."

The commission said it also has taken steps to improve internal communication, including creating an online forum for employees.

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