W3BE'S BE Informed!
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BE Informed No. 2.1

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Who Is in Charge

Of Our VE System?

John B. Johnston W3BE

Q. Who is in charge of our VE system? 

A. Our regulator is in charge of our VE (volunteer examiner) system. SEC. 303 of the Communications Act empowers the FCC to prescribe the qualifications of station operators.  Further, SEC. 4 says the FCC:

   For purposes of preparing or administering any examination for an amateur station operator license, may accept and employ the voluntary and uncompensated services of any individual who holds an amateur station operator license of a higher class than the class of license for which the examination is being prepared or administered. In the case of examinations for the highest class of amateur station operator license, the Commission may accept and employ such services of any individual who holds such class of license.

   (F) Any person who provides services under this paragraph shall not be considered, by reason of having provided such services, a Federal employee.

   (G) The FCC, in accepting and employing services of individuals under subparagraphs (A) and     

   (B), shall seek to achieve a broad representation of individuals and organizations interested in amateur station operation.

   (H) The FCC may establish rules of conduct and other regulations governing the service of individuals under this paragraph.

   (I) With respect to the acceptance of voluntary uncompensated services for the preparation, processing, or administration of examinations for amateur station operator licenses pursuant to subparagraph (A) of this paragraph, individuals, or organizations which provide or coordinate such authorized volunteer services may recover from examinees reimbursement for out-of-pocket costs.

   (B) The FCC may prescribe regulations to select, oversee, sanction, and dismiss any person authorized under this paragraph to be employed by the FCC.

   (C) Any person who provides services under this paragraph or who provides goods in connection with such services shall not, by reason of having provided such service or goods, be considered a Federal or special government employee.  

Q. That statute reads as though Congress envisioned the VEs taking the lead and the VECs (volunteer-examiner coordinators) acting in a supporting role. The common meaning of the term coordinator is a non-management facilitator who conducts liaison between various organizational components to achieve harmonization. 

A. Section 97.519(a) stipulates that a VEC must coordinate – rather than manage - the efforts of our VEs in preparing and administering examinations. Neither the statute nor Part 97 uses the term “manager.” A manager is one who directs business or activities. So managing is not what VECs are supposed to do.

   The term manager, for comparison, is used in Part 13 Commercial Operator Licenses. Section 13.3(a) therein specifically provides for a commercial operator license examination manager. As the VE system has evolved, nevertheless, it should be obvious to most observers that it has been the VECs that have provided the initiative. 

Q. What is the difference between a VE and a VEC?

A. Our Section 97.3(a)(49) volunteer examiners are supposed to prepare and administer examinations. The number of VEs is usually estimated at 32,000 VEs.

   Our Section 97.3(a)(50) volunteer-examiner coordinators are supposed to coordinate the preparing and administering work of our VEs and process the successful results submitted to the FCC. There are 14 VECS.

Q. What, then, is the NCVEC?

A. Our VECs have joined themselves together into a private organization they call their National Conference of Volunteer Examiner Coordinators. It typically meets annually to address issues, sometimes with FCC regulatory, enforcement, licensing and information services personnel in attendance. The NCVEC is reported to be funded from the fees charged for providing – using their VEC prerogatives - non-examining services such as license renewal and mailing address modification.     

Q. So just who are the experts to say what a ham radio operator needs to know?

A. That task falls upon our Section 97.507 preparing VEs. They are supposed to prepare and administer examinations such as to prove that the examinee has the operational and technical qualifications required to perform properly the duties of an amateur service licensee.

Q. I disagree with that answer "That task falls upon the volunteer examiners." Determining what a ham radio operator needs to know is the role of the Question Pool Committee of the NCVEC, not the individual VEs.

A. Neither the term NCVEC nor QPC is used in either the Communications Act or in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations Title 47 Part 97. The NCVEC is a private organization doing what it does at the pleasure of our VEs. The QPC is the creation of the NCVEC.

Q. My understanding is that our VECs have the responsibility of insuring that there is one common pool, and the NCVEC is the mechanism they have created to accomplish that (among other things).  The QPC is appointed by the NCVEC to develop that common pool. 

A. Section 97.523 says All VECs must cooperate in maintaining one question pool for each written examination element. It says, moreover, each question on each question pool must be prepared by a VE holding the required FCC-issued operator license. See Section 97.507(a) of this part. Section 97.507 says:

   (a) Each written question set administered to an examinee must be prepared by a VE holding an Amateur Extra Class operator license. A written question set may also be prepared for the following elements by a VE holding an operator license of the class indicated:

   (1) Element 3: Advanced Class operator.

   (2) Element 2: Advanced or General class operators.

Q. Aren’t the VECs also responsible for the license application form? 

A. Not according to Section 97.17(b)(1). It says that the VEs may collect all necessary information in any manner of their choosing, including creating their own forms. This is sufficiently flexible to allow VEs to choose using NCVEC Form 605. Section 97.509(m) says, moreover, that the coordinating VEC must give to the administering VEs instructions for submitting to the coordinating VEC application documents filed by successful examinees.

Q. I have been involved in the VE program from its beginning in 1984. Lately, new VEs showing up for test sessions are few. There are some VE teams that don't want or welcome new VE's. Other teams go out of their way to get them involved. The VECs should show some appreciation to VEs, such as a nice certificate of thanks for every 50 sessions.

A. Excellent idea! The efforts of our estimated 32,000 VEs do seem to go unrecognized. There would, however, be costs incurred in awarding VE appreciation certificates. The funding would have to come from some source other than the examinees. Section 97.527 only authorizes VEs and VECs to be reimbursed by examinees for out-of-pocket expenses incurred in preparing, processing, administering, or coordinating an examination for an amateur operator license. Perhaps, therefore, the funding for certificates could come from the commercial side of examining, i.e., those engaged in for-profit publishing, distributing, retailing, training, writing, marketing and other services.

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September 19, 2016

Supersedes all prior versions