FCC's Top Engineer Julius Knapp Retiring

Julie Knapp

Julie Knapp

Iconic FCC engineer Julius (Julie) Knapp is retiring Jan. 3 from the FCC after over 45 years with the agency. 

Knapp, who has been chief of the Office of Engineering and Technology for over a dozen years, has considered retirement for some time, but had been persuaded to stay on by agency officials and likely the challenge of engineering issues that continue to proliferate. 

Knapp has been chief of the division since 2006. Before that he was deputy chief (2002-2006) and before that chief of the Policy and Rules division and of the FCC Laboratory, handling equipment authorizations and technical analysis.

His awards include the Personal Communications Industry Association's Eugene C. Bowler award for exceptional professionalism and dedication to public service, the Federal Communications Bar Association Excellence in Government Service Award, and the WCAI government Leadership award. He also received FCC Silver and Gold medal awards for distinguished service.

In a statement Wednesday (Nov. 27), Knapp said that he hit the maximum retirement benefits long ago and, as to why leave now with "so much left to do," he pointed out that there "will always be more things to accomplish and that will never change." 

"I thank chairman Pai and all the past Chairmen and Commissioners for whom I have had the privilege to serve. Most of all I am grateful for having had the opportunity to work with the fantastic staff in the Office of Engineering and Technology and the other bureaus and offices throughout the Commission," he said.  

Taking a page from his musical chairman, Knapp explained: "As George Harrison once said in his hit song: "All Things Must Pass."  

For his part, the chairman left the song references to Knapp, instead invoking an iconic ad campaign of yesteryear:

"Julie Knapp is an FCC institution, and I will miss him for his expertise, his leadership, and his friendship. He’s delivered incalculable value for American consumers over the years. As just one example, if you have a device that uses the airwaves, the chances are that you’re benefiting from Julie’s efforts. He’s played a key role in all of the Commission’s spectrum efforts over many years, from freeing up spectrum for 4G LTE and 5G to making more spectrum available for unlicensed operations like WiFi to encouraging technologies of the future, like wireless medical services. He has also been instrumental in modernizing and streamlining the FCC’s equipment authorization process, which helps get new devices into consumers’ hands quickly and safely. 

“On a personal level, when I think of Julie, I’m reminded of the old advertising slogan, ‘When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.’ That’s because when Julie speaks, everyone listens. Across the federal government and throughout the private sector, Julie is widely respected for his vast knowledge, his ability to explain complex technical concepts in an accessible way, his collegiality, and his candor. As I’ve seen many times during my tenure as Chairman, his reputation as a solid technical expert and a straight shooter has made him invaluable in resolving numerous challenges facing the FCC that might have otherwise proven intractable. 

“While Julie’s departure will be a big loss for the Commission, I’m grateful that he is leaving behind a legacy at the Office of Engineering and Technology that will serve the FCC well in the years to come. So as Julie enters the final weeks of his long and storied FCC career, I would like to thank him for his public service, congratulate him on all his accomplishments, and wish him all the best in his well-earned retirement.”

But Pai was hardly alone in his praise for a job better than well done.

"It is with bittersweet feelings that I offer my sincerest congratulations and tip my hat to Julie Knapp on his upcoming retirement," said commissioner Michael O'Rielly. "For the institution, the FCC faces a monumental loss. Julie’s work has been immeasurable during my time here. When it comes to the list of dedicated public servants who have spent their careers serving the American people and have risen to become unquestioned leaders in their field, he undoubtedly is atop the list.

"He is the consummate professional, taking every technical problem imaginable and finding an acceptable outcome – or telling it straight when the math doesn’t work. He has been a steady hand, helping to lead our nation’s communications policy across many Administrations and with so varied a set of Commissioners. Hopefully, I have learned a thing or two from his warm personality and leadership style. At the same time, Julie has long ago earned to right to declare when his FCC journey is to conclude. I cannot thank him enough for his many years of public service, and may God bless him, his wife, and his family in the next chapter of life."

Jessica Rosenworcel tweeted about the news:


“The Federal Communications Commission just announced the retirement of one of our finest: Julius Knapp," Rosenworcel said. "I will miss his incredible smarts and uncommon grace. He has been called on to explain so much to so many people during his time at the FCC because he is such a fantastic authority, a terrific teacher, and an extraordinary colleague whose input has improved countless decisions at the agency. He deserves all the best in his retirement because he represents the very best in public service.”

"NAB salutes Julie Knapp on a remarkable career marked by loyalty to mission and dedication to public service," the National Association of Broadcasters said in a statement. "We wish him a long and happy retirement."

"Someone with Julie's technical expertise, leadership capabilities and unfailingly good humor is rare indeed," said former FCC chairman Dick Wiley, who headed the commission from 1974 to 1977. "Without doubt he is one of the finest public servants I have ever met," said Wiley, one of the top communications attorneys in the country and a frequent visitor to the commission in the intervening years as partner at Wiley Rein. "I brought people in with new technologies and Julie already knew all about it," he said.

Knapp also held his own in the sartorial department. "He was an engineer who dressed like a lawyer," said Wiley.

“Julie is a national treasure," said Commissioner Brendan Carr. "For more than 45 years, his work at the FCC has enabled countless new technologies to reach the market for the benefit of millions of Americans. Julie is without a doubt one of the most consequential public servants the federal government has known. His engineering expertise and even-keeled leadership enabled the U.S. to transition from no Gs to 5G and from old copper lines to next-generation Internet connections. Across every administration and through every technical and policy debate, Julie has been a trusted voice and honest broker. He is not someone the FCC can replace, but the mentorship he has provided to so many at the agency ensures that his legacy of professionalism and the FCC’s engineering expertise will endure."

"Now that I am in private practice, I have to pay my taxes quarterly," said former FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, now a partner at Cooley LLP. "When I write those checks I try to think of Julie Knapp. He has been the consummate public servant and we need more Julie Knapps in public service."

“It’s worth commending his many years of stellar work at the FCC," said Jamie Suskind, staff VP for regulatory affairs at the Consumer Technology Association. "The thing I like most about him is that he’s clearly the smartest guy in the room, but still takes time to explain things in a way everyone can understand. Also, he’s fair, as evidenced by his decades of service under leadership from both parties. I am sad to see him go.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.