Increased public particiaption in the federal government has brought about an enormous expansion of toll-free telephone service to government agencies. These "800" lines allow the public to make long-distance calls at government expense to get specific information from agencies.
The installation of such phone lines has happened so fast among various government agencies that the General Services Administration, which manages federal telecommunications, lost track of what was going on, not to mention losing control of it.
It wasn't controversial when the Veterans Administration, for example, set up free service for those who wanted to determine their benefit status or the availbility of medical treatment, or even when the Internal Revenue Service provided free phone advice to taxpayers as April 15 approached.
But it was a bit embarrassing, one official said, when the General Services Administration couldn't say exactly how many lines existed or who has them. In July 1979, for example, General Services Administration took a guess that there were up to 1,000 lines in operation at a cost of more than $11 million a year.
But Congress really got into the act a year ago when some constituents complained that lines put in by what was then the Department of Health, Education and Welfare seemed to be soliciting the public to request new government assistance programs rather than just finding out about what was already there.
The General Services Administration has put together some new rules to remedy that, according to a notice in the Jan. 26 Federal Register (page 7983).
Intercity toll-free telephone service will now have to be justified to the General Services Administration, which must be provided a description of the service, the program to be served, type of service, the proposed usage, estimated monthly cost and numbers of circuits. In addition, there will be a review each year of lines in use to determine the need for continuing the service at that level.