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SGM No. 00-01

MAR 31, 2000

TO: Area Directors

FROM: Director

SUBJECT: Telephone Answering Machine Use

Section 330 of the Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2000 as enacted into law by section 1000(a)(3)of Public Law 106-113 states:  "Other than in emergency situations, none of the funds in this Act may be used to operate telephone answering machines during core business hours unless such answering machines include an option that enables callers to reach promptly an individual on-duty with the agency being contacted."

Representative Ralph Regula, Chairman, Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies, Committee on Appropriations, has requested details on what actions are being taken to address this matter.  Mr. John J. Callahan, Assistant Secretary for Management and Budget/Chief Information Officer, Department of Health and Human Services, has informed Representative Regula that the Indian Health Service has implemented a policy for headquarters operations and intends to implement this law in all areas by mid-April.  I have attached a copy of the correspondence to Representative Regula.

Please take the necessary steps to implement this law in your Area.  Also, fulfill any collective bargaining obligations you may have regarding implementation.

If you have any questions, please contact Mr. Vincent Gudewich, Labor Relations Specialist, at (301) 443-3920.

/Michael H. Trujillo, M.D./
Michael H. Trujillo, M.D., M.P.H., M.S.
Assistant Surgeon General

Attachment (below)

Office of the Secretary
Washington, D.C.
FEB 25 2000

The Honorable Ralph Regula Chairman
Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies
Committee on Appropriations
House of Representative
Washington, DC 20515-6015

Dear Mr. Chairman:

Secretary Shalala asked me to respond to your February 1 letter, which highlighted language in the FY 2000 Interior Appropriations Act, P.L.106-113, requiring that answering machines include referrals to "a real person."

I agree wholeheartedly that answering machines are no substitute for people.  Our employees should answer phone calls whenever possible.  When they cannot, then the messages on answering machines (voice mail and similar technologies) should provide intelligent assistance to the caller, including an alternative name/number to call if there is an urgency.

This is common sense and a common practice at the Department of Health and Human Services, although it has not been a mandatory policy.  The Administration for Children and Families promoted this basic concept when it implemented its voice/mail system, I am advised.  On several occasions, I have stressed the need for timely and helpful messages on answering devices used within my immediate organization.

The Indian Health Service, which receives its funding through your Committee, has had a written policy since 1996 for its headquarters operations to have people answer its phones or that answering messages refer callers to other people.  The IHS intends to convey and expand this policy to its field offices, with the intent of having it fully in effect by mid-April.

I will also take the opportunity of your interest, in the context of my role as Chief Information Officer of HHS, to bolster this principle through our telecommunications policy network, as well as through a general department-wide notice to employees.

Your concern is well taken and coincides with our ongoing efforts to constantly improve our service to the public.  Thank you for bringing this to our attention, and we appreciate the strong level of support which you provide to the Indian Health Service.

/John J. Callahan/
John J. Callahan
Assistant Secretary for Management and
Budget/Chief Information Officer

cc:  The Honorable Norm Dicks Ranking Minority Member