What Oklahoma City is to air traffic controllers, Norfolk is to the Federal Communications Commission's engineers.
That's where they learn to inspect and investigate companies and enforce federal rules--everything from monitoring television frequencies to inspecting ship radios.
They train in the FCC's district office in Norfolk because that's where chief engineer Jerry Freeman started a training program of his own about 14 years ago. The FCC's Bureau of Field Operations formally organized the program there in 1975.
Engineers used to be taught by the person who hired them, and each of the agency's 50 field offices had its own way of doing things.
Back then, some ships, when their annual inspections were due, would plan their routes to avoid district offices known to have more stringent inspectors, according to Samuel Miles, the engineer who runs the program.
Or the owner of a television station in Seattle might compare notes on FCC inspections with a colleague on the East Coast and find a different standard was used.
So the commission decided it needed a central training program for its field staff.
There aren't a lot of trainees: the four- to six-month program averaged about 10 a year before a hiring freeze was imposed at the agency more than two years ago. Since then, the number of engineer vacancies has dwindled, but the office still trains engineers who transfer from other agency bureaus and holds seminars to bring staffers up-to-date on new developments.
The office also provides seminars for the agency's field public service officials, the staffers who have to deal with questions about agency regulations or complaints about vacuum cleaners that interfere with television reception.
"Our people have to be lawyers; our people have to be engineers; our people have to be psychologists; they have to be civil service employes," Miles said.
So he and the resident Norfolk engineers take an engineer out of college and give him more schooling in electronic engineering, communications law and bureaucratic etiquette.
The graduates have to know how to monitor broadcast frequencies, how to inspect the equipment that emits them and how to enforce regulations.
"We have to teach them how to draw a radio receiver. They may have learned that their first semester in college, but it got buried under two years of computer science," Miles said. "We have to teach them international Morse Code. Stations identify themselves in code."
They deal with AM and FM stations, television channels, cable systems, citizen band radios, marine frequencies, microwave dishes and a few other odds and ends, such as pacemakers and crib monitors.
They have to know how to inspect ship's radios, the only inspection required by the original Communications Act of 1934 that established government jurisidiction over the airwaves.
It gives the FCC some control over its engineers' technical expertise, Miles said, and just makes things run more smoothly when reports read similarly.
Eventually, all of the about 120 field engineers in the FCC's district offices will be Norfolk-trained. "When the people I've trained are engineers-in-charge," Miles said, "we'll be halfway there."