FAA unit reimburses employees for cell phones

Employees at a Federal Aviation Administration facility are getting $30 a month to help with their cell phone bills if they use their own cell phones for work, under a new pilot program.

Until recently, officials at the Federal Aviation Administration Logistics Center (FAALC) in Oklahoma City spent about $70,000 a year providing cellular telephones and pagers to its employees.

Then Norman Bowles, FAALC program director, came up with a cost-saving method for keeping those same employees connected--pay a flat reimbursement rate to employees who agree to use their own cellular telephones for business purposes. The agency began a pilot test of the new approach in September.

Because FAALC supplies parts to the entire air traffic control system, many of its employees are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and cell phones make them easily accessible.

"We noticed that a lot of our employees not only had the government phone, but they had their own phone," Bowles said. "How come we are providing somebody with a cell phone when they already have one? So, if you are a person who has a need for a government phone, the alternative is that we will essentially lease yours by giving you $30 a month instead of giving you a phone."

Under the pilot, the agency requires employees to maintain the telephone, use a flat monthly rate service and keep the service connected. Only those employees who are eligible for a government telephone or pager are able to get the $30 reimbursement.

Bowles said the cost saved by not owning equipment or paying a flat monthly rate for service that isn't used regularly makes the pilot program attractive to the government.

"Employees are happy because they carry only one phone," Bowles said.

When critics questioned why the agency didn't tie the amount reimbursed to the number of minutes used, Bowles countered with a comparison to per diem rates.

"When we look at per diem, it isn't tied to whether or not you eat," Bowles said. "If you go out and buy food, or if you starve yourself, we still pay per diem."

The key, Bowles said, is being able to contact an employee when needed for as little cost to the government as possible.

"We're just better off using theirs if it meets our standards," Bowles said. "It's a better deal all the way around."

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