Defense Management:

Installation of Telecommunications Equipment in the Homes of Volunteers

GAO-03-838R: Published: Jun 16, 2003. Publicly Released: Jun 16, 2003.

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The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000 required that GAO review the Department of Defense's (DOD) use of the 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. This report 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.

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 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 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.

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