oversight

Defense Management: Installation of Telecommunications Equipment in the Homes of Volunteers

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-06-16.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

United States General Accounting Office
Washington, DC 20548



          June 17, 2003

          The Honorable John Warner
          Chairman
          The Honorable Carl Levin
          Ranking Minority Member
          Committee on Armed Services
          United States Senate

          The Honorable Duncan Hunter
          Chairman
          The Honorable Ike Skelton
          Ranking Minority Member
          Committee on Armed Services
          House of Representatives

          Subject: Defense Management: Installation of Telecommunications Equipment in
          the Homes of Volunteers

          This letter responds to a requirement in the National Defense Authorization Act for
          Fiscal Year 20001 that we review the Department of Defense’s (DOD) use of authority
          to install telephone lines and any necessary telecommunications equipment in the
          homes of persons who provide voluntary services for the military. These volunteers,
          in addition to their other social service activities, provide a link between military
          units and the families of servicemembers deployed away from home. The legislation
          required us to submit the results of our review within 2 years after the department
          issued implementing regulations. The department issued its regulation in March
          2002.2 This letter discusses (1) the extent of the military services’ use of the authority
          and (2) the internal controls that have been established to ensure equipment is used
          only for authorized purposes.

          In performing our work, we talked with officials from the Office of the Secretary of
          Defense and each military service’s family policy office to obtain information on the
          current and expected use of the telecommunications authority and the internal
          controls over any funds expended under the program. We also requested that Army,
          Navy, and National Guard family policy officials query a limited number of their
          volunteers in areas with high deployments to determine the extent that the
          telecommunications equipment has been installed in the home of volunteers. We also


          1
              Pub. L. No. 106-65, section 371.
          2
              DOD Instruction 1100.21, Voluntary Services in the Department of Defense, March 11, 2002.


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talked with various service officials and several volunteers about the
telecommunications equipment used to perform volunteer activities.

Results in Brief

The military services report they have made little use of the legislative authority to
install telecommunications equipment in the homes of volunteers. While DOD has
issued implementing guidance, the services have not issued their own guidance. It is
not clear to what extent issuance of service guidance will lead to increased use of this
authority. Perhaps more significantly, as alternatives to in-home installation, some
military components have increased their authorized use of cell phones, provided
volunteers with telephone credit cards, and permitted access to phones at volunteer
offices. Several family policy officials said that these alternatives are easier to
manage than in-home installation and would likely limit the future installation of in-
home telecommunications equipment. In addition, various service officials told us
that servicemembers’ access to calling cards and various other means of
communication, including e-mail, has facilitated communications between deployed
servicemembers and their families. Air Force officials told us they do not use
volunteers, as the Army and the Navy do, to maintain contact between deployed
personnel and their families; so they have no current plans to use the authority.

The services are relying on existing internal controls to ensure authorized use of
telecommunications equipment by volunteers. Under these provisions, Army, Navy,
Marine Corps, and National Guard Bureau officials told us they reimburse volunteers
for phone calls made from their homes if the volunteers provide proper supporting
documentation, such as itemized monthly phone bills. Likewise, various service
officials told us that representatives from their units typically review monthly cell
                                                                   3
phone bills before they are paid. Service family policy officials noted that, if
telecommunications equipment were installed in volunteers’ homes, a representative
of the approving official would review the supporting documentation before the bill
would be paid.

Based on information obtained suggesting limited current and expected use of the
authority, we concluded our review and are not making any recommendations.

Background

During the mid-1990s, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower
and Reserve Affairs became the DOD proponent for installing telecommunications
equipment in the homes of Navy and Marine Corps volunteers. Navy officials saw a
need to provide the Navy’s and Marine Corps’ primary volunteers with relief from a
perceived burden of over-using their personal telephones to perform volunteer
activities and not always being reimbursed for any added costs. Navy officials felt
that a second phone line, installed by the local phone company, in the volunteer’s
home could alleviate this burden. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal
Year 2000 authorized DOD to install telephone lines and any necessary
telecommunications equipment in the private residences of persons who provide


3
    Volunteer programs are under the direction of component family policy offices.


Page 2                                                              GAO-838R Defense Management
voluntary services for the military components including the Coast Guard. DOD
issued implementing regulations in March 2002.

Services Have Rarely Used the Authority
for In-Home Telecommunication Services

Our review indicates that use of the legislative authority to install
telecommunications equipment in individual volunteers’ homes has been very limited.
This was confirmed in our direct contact with volunteers and officials and query
results from three volunteer groups, through which we determined only one piece of
telecommunications equipment had been installed in the home of a volunteer.

There are several reasons why the authority has had or is likely to have limited use.
First, although DOD has issued its implementing guidance, the services have not
issued their guidance. Officials from the Army and the Navy said that the authority is
not yet a well-known benefit in the volunteer community. Officials from the Army,
the Navy and the Marine Corps said that their implementing guidance has been
developed and should be approved within the next 6 months; however, what impact
this may have on usage is not clear. Secondly, and perhaps more significantly,
volunteer program officials in the Army, the Navy, and the National Guard said that
                                        4
the services, under existing authority, are increasing their use of cell phones and in
some cases telephone credit cards because they are easier to manage. As a result,
they expect limited installation of telecommunications equipment in the homes of
volunteers. In addition, various service officials told us that servicemembers’ access
to calling cards and various other means of communication, including e-mail if
available, has facilitated communications between deployed servicemembers and
their families and could reduce the need for in-home installation. Air Force officials
told us they have volunteers; however, they are not used to stay in contact with
deployed units as Army and Navy volunteers are. Thus, the Air Force has no current
plans to use the authority.

Our work identified only one piece of telecommunications equipment installed in a
volunteer’s home. The Navy paid to have a fax machine installed in the home of a
Navy volunteer who was staying in contact with a deployed Navy frigate. However,
the volunteer stated that because she uses the fax machine infrequently for her
volunteer duties and the cost is nominal, she has not sought reimbursement from her
command. This volunteer also noted that her command provided her with a cell
phone, which she uses regularly, to perform her volunteer duties.

Information made available from selected Army, Navy, and National Guard units
showed that alternatives to in-home installation are more often used to provide
telecommunications services for volunteers:

               •    A family policy official from the Army’s Southeast Region in Atlanta,
                    Georgia, queried volunteers at Fort Bragg and Fort Stewart and found
                    no Army-provided telecommunications equipment installed in their
                    homes. At Fort Bragg, some volunteers are reportedly provided cell
                    phones at a cost to the Army of about $30.00 a month per cell phone.
4
    10 U.S.C., 1588(e).


Page 3                                                       GAO-838R Defense Management
            •   A Norfolk, Virginia, area Navy official queried about 55 volunteers at a
                volunteer meeting and found that 8 had been provided cell phones by
                their local command and 1 of these volunteers also had a Navy-
                provided fax machine, which we discussed earlier. One Navy volunteer
                estimated her cell phone charges, which are paid by the Navy, at about
                $40.00 a month.

            •   The Chief of Family Programs at the National Guard Bureau queried
                                                5
                eight state volunteer programs and found that no National Guard-
                provided telecommunications equipment was installed in any
                volunteers’ homes. These states use other methods, such as providing
                family policy office phones or prepaid phone cards for long distance
                calls and reimbursing calls made on the volunteer’s home phone, as
                alternatives to in-home installation.

Services Are Relying on Existing Internal
Controls to Prevent Abuse

Family policy officials are relying on existing internal controls6 to ensure any funds
expended by volunteers for telecommunications are appropriate. Currently, the
Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the National Guard Bureau reimburse
volunteers for phone calls made from their private phones if the volunteer provides
supporting documentation, such as itemized monthly phone bills. We were told that
service officials review this documentation before each bill is paid. This internal
control procedure is also used to control the authorized use of cell phones provided
to volunteers. Service family policy officials stated they would rely on the same
procedures for any telecommunications equipment that was installed in a volunteer’s
home. Basically, the bill would either go directly to the command or the volunteer
would have to submit supporting documentation. In either case, we were told the bill
would be reviewed at the local level before it is paid.

Agency Comments and Our Evaluation

In providing oral comments on a draft of this letter, a representative of the Office of
the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness concurred with our
findings.

Scope and Methodology

To obtain information on the military services’ use of the authority, we interviewed
officials from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and
Reserve Affairs, the Secretary of the Navy’s Office of Family Policy and the Navy’s
Personnel Center, the Army’s Office of Family Policy at the Army Community and

5
  The National Guard Bureau surveyed volunteer programs in Arkansas, Massachusetts, New York,
Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Florida, Kentucky, and Iowa.
6
  Internal controls are set up to provide reasonable assurance on the part of managers that resources
are used consistent with the agency’s mission and that they are protected from waste, fraud, and
mismanagement.


Page 4                                                            GAO-838R Defense Management
Family Support Center, the Secretary of the Air Force’s Office of Family Matters, and
the Marine Corps’ Family Team Building Branch. In addition, we interviewed the
Chief of Family Programs at the National Guard Bureau. We did not include the
Coast Guard in the scope of work. We obtained information about the use of the
authority by requesting that three volunteer program officials who work in highly
deploying areas query their volunteers about this issue. The officials used various
informal means to collect the information, which involved discussions with or
contacting numerous service volunteers in the Norfolk, Virginia, area; Fort Bragg,
North Carolina, and Fort Stewart, Georgia, areas in the Army’s Southeast Region; and
numerous volunteers from eight state programs in the National Guard. We also
talked with various service officials and several volunteers about the types of
telecommunications equipment used to perform volunteer activities.

To determine the types of internal controls currently being used, we reviewed service
guidance dealing with volunteer programs, family policy, or management controls,
and interviewed Army, Navy, and National Guard family policy officials on the
controls for reimbursing volunteers for phone calls made from their personal home
phones or service provided cell phones. In addition, we interviewed officials from
the services’ family policy offices to determine internal controls that might be used if
telecommunications equipment were installed in a volunteer’s home.

We performed our work from November 2002 to May 2003 in accordance with
generally accepted government auditing standards.

                             --------------------------------------

We are sending copies of this letter to the Secretaries of Defense, the Army, the Navy,
and the Air Force; the Commandant of the Marine Corps; and the Office of
Management and Budget. We will also make copies available to others upon request.
In addition, the letter is available at no charge on GAO’s Web site at
http://www.gao.gov. If you have any questions concerning this letter, please contact
me on (202) 512-8412. Key contributors to this assignment were Michael Kennedy
and Richard Meeks.



Barry W. Holman, Director
Defense Capabilities and Management




(350296)



Page 5                                                          GAO-838R Defense Management
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