WASHINGTON-Despite recent findings that some Federal Communications Commission employees have been using commission-owned cellular phones for their personal use at taxpayer expense, apparently none will be charged for hundreds of dollars of non-business calls made between October 1995 and May 1996.
At the beginning of fiscal year 1993, the FCC had only six cellular phones for its use; by September 1995, that number had grown to more than 130. Bills that previously totaled only $1,731 per month during fiscal year 1994 rose to $7,580 per month during fiscal year 1995. That’s when the FCC’s Office of the Inspector General got involved.
Most employees who use one of the nearly 140 phones paid for by the commission said they had seen no formal memorandum instructing what types of calls could be made from the phones. Others had differing ideas of what constituted business and what didn’t. The FCC admitted it had no adequate methods in place to monitor cellular abuse and to collect fees for personal calls from errant employees.
According to an IG report released Aug. 15, “selected” commission employees whose bills routinely topped $100 per month were monitored during the seven-month period. “The results of our analysis and subsequent feedback from the employees questioned by our staff clearly show that a pattern of cellular phone abuse has occurred within the agency,” the IG wrote.
The IG’s review was limited to outgoing calls made by six employees. The calls cost 35 cents per minute during peak hours and 15 cents per minute off-peak. Calls from an employee’s desk cost an average of 9 cents per call. According to the inspectors, there was no way of retrieving call records to track incoming cellular calls, for which the commission also paid. While the IG did not release the names of the offenders, the report said 32 percent of the FCC’s cellular phones were used by the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau’s Auction Division.
Using a CD-ROM program called “Phone Disc,” inspectors were able to decide if numbers listed on the six high cell phone bills were made to businesses or residences. The IG identified more than 2,300 questionable calls during the test period. Of those, 633 were attributed to one FCC employee, including 347 calls to restaurants, car dealers, personal residences, banks and other non-FCC-related locations; another 214 calls could not be tracked by Phone Disc.
When the seven-month monitoring exercise was concluded, the six employees were questioned by the IG about possible improper use of FCC cell phones. “One employee informed us that he was provided a cellular phone by the FCC and felt he could use it for whatever occasion he deemed necessary,” the final report read. “He further stated his belief that calls that we questioned, such as those to a pizza parlor, were appropriate to make from a cellular phone if they were running late and in a meeting.” None of the six could recall receiving any instructions on appropriate use of the phones.
Supervisors also were found somewhat to blame, in that they improperly or never reviewed employees’ cellular phone bills. Of those who did perform some sort of review and who found discrepancies, only one sought any remittance from the employee.
In light of these expenditures, the IG got approval for three ways to curb the problem: circulate an instruction sheet on cellular phone use that must be signed by the employee, formulate a method to reimburse the FCC for long-distance calls and find a method of accounting for the costs of incoming calls.