I once got a notice from an "Official Observer." I thought I had gone out of the band or commuted some other egregious error. To my surprise it was a "commendation for good operation procedures" merely because I had transmitted "Is this freq in use?" before I called a CQ. Well, the "OO's" have been around for as long as I have been a ham. But alas and alack, no more. The Official Observers have been replaced.
.The ARRL Board of Directors has adopted the recommendations of the Official Observer Program Study Committee, which would retire the venerable Official Observer (OO) Program and institute the Volunteer Monitoring (VM) Program. The Board took the action at its July 20 - 21 meeting in Windsor, Connecticut, instructing that the transition "be implemented as soon as practicable." Under the terms of the new program, current Official Observers will be invited to apply for appointment as Volunteer Monitors. The Board expressed its appreciation for the OOs and their dedicated volunteer service over the years.
The Board said the action is expected to re-energize enforcement efforts in the Amateur Radio bands and was undertaken at the request of the FCC in the wake of several FCC regional office closures and a reduction in field staff. Coordination of cases and evidence gathering would become the responsibility of ARRL Headquarters staff, while the FCC will retain the responsibility for final decisions regarding action in specific cases.
The study committee report spelled out the additional steps necessary to launch the Volunteer Monitoring Program. Among them would be the appointment of a dedicated Headquarters staff member or an independent contractor working under the direction of ARRL Headquarters to administer the new program and interface with its participants. The Volunteer Monitoring Program administrator would, among other duties, create a vetting and accreditation process for prospective Volunteer Monitors. The authority to accredit, appoint, and dismiss Volunteer Monitors would be assigned to ARRL Headquarters staff. Section Managers will continue to be a part of the vetting process for VMs, although they will not have appointment or dismissal authority.>
Volunteer Monitor accreditation would be limited to a 3-year term, renewable by satisfying requirements necessary to ensure competency. A new Volunteer Monitoring Training Manual is in the final stages of development. The administrator will create a target for the number of geographically distributed Volunteer Monitors. Preliminary plans would include up to five Volunteer Monitors per ARRL Section and up to 250 Volunteer Monitors overall. The administrator would also "develop a rubric or other aid for program participants to highlight offenses and other criteria that the FCC considers a priority," the motion said. The administrator also would be charged with organizing periodic webinars, highlighting technologies, techniques, and other continuing education topics that would assist, motivate, and better enable Volunteer Monitors. The FCC will be actively involved in the development and presentation of these training opportunities.
The new Volunteer Monitor Program would continue to send notices recognizing good on-the-air operating practice. Under the new program, positive or negative operator notices eventually would be sent from ARRL Headquarters, not by individual Volunteer Monitors, in part to maintain their anonymity. The action further authorized ARRL President Rick Roderick, K5UR, to terminate the standing Amended Agreement between ARRL and the FCC Field Bureau regarding the use of amateur volunteers and execute a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between ARRL and the FCC Enforcement Bureau. The MOU is under final review.
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