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United States Department of the Interior 

                                      OFFICE OF THE SECRETARY    
                                               Washington, D.C. 20240

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JULY 22, 1999

To: Solicitor 
Assistant Secretaries 
Inspector General 
Heads of Bureaus and Offices
From: for    Daryl W. White                    /s/ William S. Pfancuff 
        Chief Information Officer
Subject: Interim Guidance for Use of Automatic Phone Answering Equipment 
Advances in technology have given us the opportunity to employ automated phone answering/switching equipment and voice mail to assist in coverage for our offices.  This has been especially helpful, as we have reduced staffing because of downsizing and budget reductions.

Unfortunately, in some organizations it has become the normal operation to employ this type of automation to the exclusion of initial personal contact with the public or other callers requesting information concerning our Department.  As many of you may know from personal experience, being lost in a maze of recordings, beeps, and unclear instructions, voice mail turns rapidly into voice "jail."

While it is not our intention to be overly restrictive in creative and resource saving methods in using automated phone answering, voice mail, and voice instruction technology, we do need to  follow appropriate guidelines that will best serve the public.  The below interim guidance is provided for the use of automated phone answering devices and is effective immediately:

1. The "main" published office number should be staffed during your core business hours.  If the person responsible for answering the phone has to leave, the phone should be forwarded to someone who can answer it.  In the event the line cannot be forwarded, an alternate number should be provided in the message.  An unstaffed phone in the "main" office of any organization should never be considered a normal situation.  "Main" offices are defined at your discretion and should be both practical and realistic, considering the calls you receive.

2. Personal telephone lines (the line assigned to you specifically) which have recorders or voice mail should have an alternate number where someone can be reached or the option to put in a code/number which will forward you to a main operator or another person who can “cover” calls.

3. Messages on all voice mail/recorders should be polite, short (less than 10 - 20 seconds in duration), and informational.

4. Voice instructional equipment which serves to direct people to the right functional area or person in the office should offer very clear instructions.  The instructions should always provide the option to press a key or insert a code to reach someone in person for assistance or contain a number where someone can be reached.  The message should be structured to contain this “escape” option as early in the message as possible.

Your comments on the above draft guidance and future Departmental policy on use of automated phone answering systems are solicited.  I can be reached at (202) 208-6194 or staff may contact Jim Dolezal, Chief Division of  Telecommunications Management, at the same number.

For additional information regarding this Web page, contact Krista Bibb, in the Division of Policy and Directives Management, at 
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