Washington bureaucrats who are still numb from last year's hot water cutoff will soon be unable to use office telephones to call the weather or time, or to dial-a-joke or a recorded prayer.
The General Services Administration, Uncle Sam's housekeeping agency, is talking with the C&P Telephone Company. What they are talking about is programming federal dialing equipment so federal telephones cannot reach TI 4-2525 (time) or WE 6-1212 (weather) or a host of other telephone recording numbers that dispense sports scores, jokes or inspirational messages. r
GSA's coming crackdown, aimed at reducing the government's multimillion-dollar telephone tab, is also being considered for New York and other major cities with big federal employe populations.
Washingtonians love to let their fingers do the walking. They dial the time 125,000 times each day. Calls for recorded weather information here average 110,000 per day, but jump to 130,000 if there is a hint of snow or other bad weather.
Nobody knows how many of the telephone calls for weather and time checks come from offices of the area's 360,000 federal workers. A good guess, however, is a lot, since most of the telephone traffic is during daylight hours.
Chicago's 68,000 federal civil servants are already suffering withdrawal pains from a dial-a-recording crackdown there. GSA has made it impossible for Chicago feds to dial the time, weather, recorded traffic reports and, perhaps worst of all for that big sports town, the popular number that gives scores of football, hockey and sports games.
GSA officials say the dialing crackdown in Chicago, which has a much smaller G-man population than Washington, will save about $100,000 a year.
The government has already moved to block callers on the government's long distance network -- called FTS -- from reaching many recorded numbers in other cities. Many people, officials say, had been calling dial-a-joke numbers in other cities, or getting weather updates in their home towns.
Last spring this column reported that GSA planned to shut off hot water taps in federal restrooms here. It did within a few days, cutting off hot water flows were possible or removing hot water faucet handles in many agencies under GSA control. President Carter took the heat for the decision, but in fact it was a GSA action, aimed at cutting its heating fuel bill.
Although many federal workers believe long-distance calls made over the FTS line are free, GSA says the average long-distance call from the typical federal office costs 91 cents. Charges for local calls vary from city to city, running anywhere from 4 cents to more than 10 cents.
The cutoff for weather and time calls is weeks, or months, away. GSA brass are now getting data from the telephone company here, and in New York City, to see what the blockage will cost. If the estimated savings exceed the cost of making the computer changeover, U.S. workers who want to get the time via telephone will have to go to a pay phone not hooked up to the federal dialing system.