Sammies finalist puts FCC ‘on the map’ — literally

Listen to our interview with Sammies finalist Michael Byrne on Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp.

The work Michael Byrne did as the geographic information officer at the Federal Communications Commission helped to change the map on broadband coverage in the U.S. — literally.

Through the use of online maps and other visualization tools, Byrne provided comprehensive data about nationwide broadband coverage to citizens, activists, policymakers and industry, helping them to make better informed decisions.

Byrne’s chief accomplishment was the creation of the National Broadband Map, which included data culled from 25 million records.


“Michael Byrne literally put the FCC on the map,” FCC Chief Information Officer David Bray said. “He demonstrated that you could produce maps or geospatial visualizations on critical policy issues and provide information that was not publicly available or easily accessible to the public or even to people inside the FCC itself.”

For his efforts in bringing data to citizens and policymakers about broadband availability via interactive online maps and other visualizations, the Partnership for Public Service recently named Byrne as one of the finalists for the 2014 Citizens Services Medal. The award recognizes federal employees who have made important contributions in the area of citizens services. This includes economic development, health care, education, housing, labor and transportation.

Getting to know Michael Byrne

Federal News Radio sent each Sammies finalist a brief questionnaire about themselves. Here are Byrne’s responses:

What three words best describe your leadership philosophy?
“Best tool for the job” – I know that is not three words and more of a mantra than a leadership philosophy, but this begets several concepts. First, I usually try to stay away from solutions (technical or otherwise) that promise a total package that solves everything. Second, this approach allows people I work with to investigate new loosely coupled opportunities to be innovative. These opportunities are often derivatives that provide new ways of thinking. This is the part that excites me the most.

What’s the best piece of advice (or words of wisdom) you’ve ever received and who gave it to you?
The best piece of advice I have ever received was ‘Give it 30 minutes’, and was given by a roofer my wife and I had hired for our first house. During the middle of our roofing job, he and I were chatting about a time he was tarring a roof, and someone came out to complain about the smell. He told them to give him 30 minutes and he would take care of the odor. She later came back and thanked him for solving the problem. In actuality, he had done nothing. The tar had simply dried, and the wind carried most of the odor away. I think we often need to be prudent in solving problems, because perhaps the best solution will present itself if we are calm and patient.

Who is your greatest role model and why?
I am fortunate to have four brothers who provide me constant motivation and support. These four are my role models. They are my ethical compass, my inspiration for dedication to work or problem solving, my personal coaches and my best friends. Like me, they are all hardworking professionals, fathers and husbands.

What’s the last thing you read and what’s next on your reading list?
The last book I read was Malcolm Gladwell’s “David and Golaith.” It was fantastic (I actually read most of it twice). The next on on the list is Michael Lewis’ The Big Short.” I should have read it in 2010 when it came out, but now that I work in data around the banking landscape, I really should read it.

What would be the title of your autobiography and why?
I won’t have an autobiography. My job is to love my wife, solve problems, serve others and raise my boys.

The Citizen Services Medal is just one of the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals (Sammies) presented annually by the Partnership for Public Service. View a photo gallery of all the Sammies nominees.