ARRL Volunteer Examiner Coordinator (VEC) Manager Maria Somma, AB1FM, reports that the National Conference of Volunteer Examiner Coordinators (NCVEC) held its annual meeting via teleconference on August 21. Somma is the NCVEC Vice Chair. NCVEC Chair Larry Pollock, NB5X, presided at the 35th annual meeting. The NCVEC functions to facilitate communication between the FCC and VECs. Representatives of all 14 FCC-certified VECs took part in the conference, while nine FCC staff members were on hand.
FCC Enforcement Bureau (EB) Special Counsel Laura Smith advised VEC delegates that the FCC has been on lockdown since March and that staff members will be teleworking indefinitely. This includes staff at FCC Headquarters in Washington, DC; the Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, location, and the other field offices. Smith said field engineers aren’t going out unless the issue involves safety or if lives are in danger.
FCC Mobility Division (MD) Deputy Chief Tom Derenge explained that one of his areas of responsibility is processing paperwork for applicants answering “yes” to the basic qualification question (BQQ) that asks if they’ve ever been convicted of a felony. Derenge said that paperwork from his office goes to the FCC General Counsel and the Investigations and Hearings Division (IHD). Those divisions are responsible for resolution in non-compliant conduct. Paperwork in these instances may take a while to be processed, but the FCC tries to handle it as efficiently as possible, Derenge said. He noted that applicants may request confidentiality for all documents attached to files, not just BQQ exhibits.
Derenge recommended that VECs make it clear to applicants that their address will be public information when the new license is issued. He suggested advising that an alternative address, such as a PO Box or work address, would be acceptable. Derenge pointed out that once an address is in the FCC database, it’s nearly impossible to be permanently removed.
Dorothy Stifflemire, the Associate Division Chief of the WTB Technologies Systems and Innovation Division told VECs that new license applicants should create an FCC user account and register their Social Security number (SSN) in the FCC Commission Registration System (CORES) before attending exam sessions. Registrants will be assigned a Federal Registration Number (FRN) which will be used in all license transactions with the FCC.
She explained that auto-registration in CORES at exam sessions using a Social Security number will be going away. In addition, since no mail is being sent because of the COVID-19 pandemic, applicants will not receive their auto-created password and FCC Registration Number (FRN) and will not be able to access the Universal Licensing System (ULS), the FCC license records database. Going forward, she said, VECs should make sure all applicants have an FRN before exam day.
Remote administration of amateur radio exam sessions was the hot topic of discussion, Somma said. Since April 1, ARRL VEC, W5YI-VEC, and the Greater Los Angeles Amateur Radio Group VEC (GLAARG) have remotely tested more than 4,000 applicants using video conferencing and online examinations. Proof-of-concept and procedural information were discussed for the benefit of other VECs that might be interested in pursuing remote testing. Exam candidates can search for upcoming remote online examination dates on the HamStudy website.
Rol Anders, K3RA, who chairs the NCVEC Question Pool Committee (QPC), reminded the conference that no new question pools will be released until 2022. A new Technician-class question pool will go into effect on July 1 of that year. Anders invited public input for any of the question pools.
Conference attendees discussed the possibility of an in-person annual meeting next year, depending on the pandemic and FCC staff availability.
Somma and Assistant ARRL VEC Manager Amanda Grimaldi, N1NHL, represented ARRL at the virtual gathering.
The 14 VECs taking part in the teleconference were the Anchorage Amateur Radio Club VEC (AARC VEC), the ARRL VEC, Central America VEC (CAVEC), Golden Empire Amateur Radio Society VEC (GEARS), Greater Los Angeles Amateur Radio Group VEC (GLAARG), Jefferson Amateur Radio Club VEC (JARC), Laurel Amateur Radio Club VEC (LARC), Milwaukee Radio Amateurs’ Club VEC (MRAC), Mo-Kan Regional Council of Amateur Radio Organizations VEC, San Diego Amateur Radio Council VEC (SANDARC), Sunnyvale VEC, Western Carolina Amateur Radio Society VEC (WCARS), W4VEC VEC, and W5YI VEC.
During the meeting, the NCVEC reelected current leadership representatives to new terms. Larry Pollock, NB5X, of W5YI-VEC, will serve a 13th term as Chairman and Maria Somma, AB1FM, of ARRL VEC, was elected for a 6th term as NCVEC Vice Chairman. Willard Sitton, W4HZD, from WCARS VEC, will remain as Treasurer, while Steve Emery, N4SET, also from WCARS VEC, will continue to serve as his Assistant. Michele Cimbala, WK3X, of LARC VEC, will continue as Secretary and Custodian of the Instructions to the VECs, and Somma will continue as Assistant to the Custodian of the Instructions and Rules Reporter.
The five current Question Pool Committee members were reappointed: Mike Mastroleo, AJ6NJ (GLARRG VEC); Ralph Roberts, W5VE (WCARS VEC); Maria Somma, AB1FM (ARRL VEC); Larry Pollock, NB5X (W5YI-VEC), and Chairman Rol Anders, K3RA (LARC VEC).