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Author Topic: Does FOIA apply to FCC tests?  (Read 1762 times)
N2EY
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Posts: 3849




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« on: May 15, 2010, 07:18:38 PM »

This is a discussion moved from another forum. It's really a moot point, but....

The question arose as to why FCC made the question and answer pools officially public info back in 1984, when the VEC/QPC system was created.

I say it was a cost-saving measure. Instead of maintaing FCC exam points and paying Federal employees to create and administer the amateur radio tests, FCC handed off the work to unpaid volunteers. This also put Dick Bash out of business.

K5YF says that the driving force was the Freedom of Information Act - that FCC had to do it by law.

Anybody know for sure?

73 de Jim, N2EY
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AA4HA
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« Reply #1 on: May 16, 2010, 10:33:12 AM »

I do not know if the FOIA had to do with opening up the question pools. If that was the case then any sort of testing regimen that the federal government was involved with would need to be "open-book".
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Ms. Tisha Hayes, AA4HA
Lookout Mountain, Alabama
K6LHA
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Posts: 349




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« Reply #2 on: May 16, 2010, 10:48:54 AM »

This is a discussion moved from another forum. It's really a moot point, but....

The question arose as to why FCC made the question and answer pools officially public info back in 1984, when the VEC/QPC system was created.

I say it was a cost-saving measure. Instead of maintaing FCC exam points and paying Federal employees to create and administer the amateur radio tests, FCC handed off the work to unpaid volunteers. This also put Dick Bash out of business.

K5YF says that the driving force was the Freedom of Information Act - that FCC had to do it by law.

Anybody know for sure?


Those who have training and experience in law might find this an amusing waste of time to argue insufferably back and forth.

Some tips:  Find the lawful date of the creation of the FOIA.  Compare that to the FCC decision to privatize license testing.  Go to the Reading Room at the FCC in Washington, DC, and determine ALL referencible documents pertaining to that decision to privatize testing.  Consult with a professional communications specialist attorney to determine its applicability (you must handle the attorney's billing fees).  Consult all LAW in regards to what the Freedom of Information Act states as applicable to this situation.  There, that will keep one busy, busy, busy in doing non-applicable to amateur radio activity for weeks and months ahead.

OR...

Simply assume you are the usual superior to all amateur since you got your amateur radio license as a young teen-ager and have kept doing that until your middle age and therefore know everything there is to know about everything.

Cheers,
Len K6LHA
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K0XU
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Posts: 294




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« Reply #3 on: June 18, 2010, 11:39:02 PM »

No, the guy's name was Dick Bash and he started having people send him 1 question & answer from the tests that they took. He then compiled them & error checked them and published books of them for all the classes. The FCC took to changing test on a seemingly weekly basis. I think when they came out with the VE program they just wanted to put Dick out of business. Also, they do save a lot of money this way.

Jim, K0XU
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WX7G
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« Reply #4 on: June 20, 2010, 06:03:36 AM »

The FOIA had nothing to do with it; a myth.
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KC8WUC
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« Reply #5 on: June 29, 2010, 05:38:38 AM »

I dunno.  Other agencies of the Federal government also publish their exam question pools.  I have an excellent memory and could have easily passed several different exams by recognition of questions and answers, however this is a very dicey way to get a license, particularly if knowledge content and mastery may mean a difference between life and death.  I have a Master license from the USCG would never have thought to have tried to memorize questions from the USCG deck exams, because: 1) this is really an exercise in futility because of the large number of questions on the exam, 2) you have to provide a certificate (similar to a proof of passing certificate for an FCC exam) after completing a course of so many mandated classroom hours, and 3) your life, those on your vessel, and those at sea on other vessels may be endangered by your lack of mastery and assimilation of information.

Michael KC8WUC
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K6LHA
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« Reply #6 on: June 29, 2010, 12:22:36 PM »

I dunno.  Other agencies of the Federal government also publish their exam question pools.  I have an excellent memory and could have easily passed several different exams by recognition of questions and answers, however this is a very dicey way to get a license, particularly if knowledge content and mastery may mean a difference between life and death.  I have a Master license from the USCG would never have thought to have tried to memorize questions from the USCG deck exams, because: 1) this is really an exercise in futility because of the large number of questions on the exam, 2) you have to provide a certificate (similar to a proof of passing certificate for an FCC exam) after completing a course of so many mandated classroom hours, and 3) your life, those on your vessel, and those at sea on other vessels may be endangered by your lack of mastery and assimilation of information.

Michael KC8WUC

NOT to target your relpy here, but I think this topic question should be answered by an attorney.  One point of reference is Title 17 United States Code.  The United States government cannot copyright its own 'work' (i.e., things like rules and regulations not subject to another Title on National Defense restrictions on revelation of certain information).

I can certainly understand the gravity of emergencies under SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) but there isn't quite the parallel to amateur radio licensing in my view.  Under Part 97, Code of Federal Regulations, amateur radio has about the same importance to safety of life anywhere as Part 95, C.F.R.  Since, by definition and technical regulations, USA amateur radio forbids any form of encryption for the purpose of hiding the contents of any transmission, it should not be used for messages having direct relation to National Defense classification.

"FCC tests" for amateur radio licensing are a means for the FCC to regulate all USA civil radio.  How the FCC does it is the FCC's matter and that seems to have been okay for legal reasons so far, despite a number of court cases on individual rulings over the years...and keeps a lot of attornies working.  However, trying for the "importance" of an amateur radio license and how each individual achieved it is, again in my view, more of an emotional issue for individuals than anything else.

The "Freedom of Information Act" has much to do with privacy of government information as it relates to individual citizens and whether or not certain items of information should be made public knowledge or whether such information should be kept away from public knowledge.  That is, again in my view, a much larger subject, in fact a much, much larger subject than just some correct answers on an amateur radio license examination.  As I understand it, it is still a large field of law under study today, but without any bearing on amateur radio.

As it is today and for about the last quarter century or so, the NCVEC originates the questions and answers for all USA amateur radio license examinations.  The FCC no longer makes requirements on quantities of subjects in questions as they once did.  All that is required in quantities is a minimum number of questions (ten times) for requirements of individual test elements.  The NCVEC can choose a larger minimum and does; the number of questions currently in the Question Pools are available on www.ncvec.org.  Entire pools are available for free downloading at the NCVEC website.  Individual VEC teams apparently choose questions for their test sessions at random (or nearly so).  The ARRL VEC uses pre-printed test-element questions and provides scoring templates for their VEC teams.  The whole thing is much more open than any of the formal education tests I've taken in my lifetime.

The general topic of invoking some nebulous "FOIA" thing into modern-day amateur radio testing seems more nattering by others who don't have much knowledge in the rudiments of law in regards to testing in the USA.  A lot of amateurs are seemingly too emotionally attached to their license and license class and thus miss the whole civil radio licensing effort put forth by the FCC.

73, Len K6LHA (not an attorney, just a retired electronics engineer)
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KC8WUC
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« Reply #7 on: June 30, 2010, 04:27:13 AM »

Point well taken and well spoken, Len.  I don't see how the FOIA really would apply, given the fact that the question pool is "open shelf"  or in the public domain.  Whether or not someone's test answers on individual tests would be subject to FOIA is very questionable, although this information is also disclosed to the taker after their test is scored (or it has been at testing sessions I've sat at), seemingly making disclosure under FOIA a moot point.

By the by, for those taking the GMDSS exams (maintainer or operator), I wouldn't bother unless you really need these licenses.  If you need the GMDSS for a commercial license subject to SOLAS and operating outside of the boundary line, you will need to get your STCW and all courses offer an FCC examination or a certificate which the FCC recognizes as the equivalent to a Proof of Passing Certificate (per their memorandum of understanding).  If you have a recreational vessel that is voluntarily equipped and you have GMDSS, then all you will need is an appropriate GMDSS license.

73, Michael KC8WUC
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AA4HA
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Posts: 1378




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« Reply #8 on: June 30, 2010, 06:50:19 AM »

I could see an FOIA request to find out the test scores of folks who have taken amateur radio tests. That is more of a product of the testing system and records are kept.

Of the testing materials themselves it is a moot point as the questions are not secret at all. The only information there that is considered sensitive is in what order certain questions appear on any one test and the answer patterns (relating to the grading keys).

Tisha Hayes, ARRL VE
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Ms. Tisha Hayes, AA4HA
Lookout Mountain, Alabama
K6LHA
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Posts: 349




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« Reply #9 on: June 30, 2010, 11:48:44 AM »

I could see an FOIA request to find out the test scores of folks who have taken amateur radio tests. That is more of a product of the testing system and records are kept.

Of the testing materials themselves it is a moot point as the questions are not secret at all. The only information there that is considered sensitive is in what order certain questions appear on any one test and the answer patterns (relating to the grading keys).

Tisha Hayes, ARRL VE

Hmmm...THAT would be a case for a "moot court."  :-)  At least for ARRL VECs.

The ARRL VEC prepares test element questions and the scoring templates, thus it qualifies under Title 17 USC - Copyrights.  Never mind that all of the possible questions and answers are open, public knowledge, if someone re-publishes free material (all USA government publications are free of copyright restrictions except in cases of National Security)...then the re-publishing does come under Copyright laws!   Cheesy

For example, there is absolutely no restriction on re-publishing, say, Part 97 C.F.R., as taken word for word from the US Government Printing Office and even making a profit from such re-publication.  The ARRL does that continually.  Is it a crime?  No, not under current laws. 

I, for one, cannot see any reason for retention of any information on the order of questions.  The largest test element is only 50 questions (Amateur Extra class).  If the selection of test element questions is truly random per session then, even if the possible number of questions of 800 wouldn't help.  When I took my one and only amateur radio license test the possible number of Extra questions was about 16 times 50 = 800; regulation was 10 times 50 minimum..  With a passing score so low (as given in regulations) I can't see any problem with some FOIA "issue."

BTW, the local ARRL VEC test teams would not give me any score on my tests, but that was solved by visual observation of them using scoring templates (notched clear plastic sheets).  It was a simple matter to look and note the number of error marks made by examiners.  All four examiners checked all answer forms individually.  I got 6 errors out of 120 total questions.  95% correct was good enough for me.  <shrug>

73, Len K6LHA
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