FTS, RBOCs join forces to overhaul federal listings

The General Services Administration's Federal Telecommunications Service is working with regional Bell operating companies nationwide to redesign the structure of federal listings in local telephone books and to include electronic-mail addresses.

FTS commissioner Bob Woods said the redesign will make the listings, known as the "blue pages," easier to use for private citizens seeking information on federal programs.

Many of the current listings, he said, are esoteric, nondescriptive and offer little help to users who do not know which federal office to contact.

"This gets to the heart of what the service delivery problem is about," Woods said. "The customers who want information on obtaining a passport do not want to turn to the State Department. They want to look under 'P' for passport."

Greg Woods, team leader for information technology and customer service at the National Performance Review, said his office selected FTS to head up the effort because of the organization's extensive experience with telecom issues.

FTS will redesign directories city by city, he said, beginning with the most populous areas. The first six cities - Baltimore; Chicago; Indianapolis; Los Angeles; Queens, N.Y.; and San Francisco - will publish new blue pages by the end of October.

Denver Gets the Ball Rolling

NPR's Woods said the idea for the redesign sprang from a recommendation to NPR by the Denver Federal Executive Board to make its local federal listings easier to use.

When NPR approached local telephone companies, they unanimously agreed that the current jumbled federal listings were causing problems for their directory service operators, who could not always refer 4-1-1 callers to the appropriate federal offices.

"They told us one of their biggest problems is that their information operators were not able to help people who called and asked for numbers for government services," NPR's Woods said. "The federal pages, in effect, made them look bad."

A spokeswoman for Bell Atlantic's Directory Services Division said representatives from the Yellow Pages Publishers Association met last fall with agency representatives to review the current listings and check them for accuracy.

In subsequent meetings, participants identified the federal offices most commonly called by citizens so that their numbers could be published in the first section of the redesigned blue pages.

The spokeswoman said the next step will change the listings from their current structure resembling an organizational chart to one that better reflects how a consumer would use them.

She added that all decisions on how to restructure the listings are made by the government, with the phone companies acting as advisers.

Although the spokeswoman said phone companies are pondering how to include e-mail addresses for all entries in the phone book, NPR's Woods said he believes the government is ahead of the private sector in its efforts to obtain e-mail listings. But, he added, some of the first editions of the revamped blue pages will not include e-mail addresses.

"Certainly, e-mail addresses are going to be part of the long-range plans," he said. "In our initial listings, you'll see a mixture because some of the phone companies are struggling with this. We have the impression we are pushing the envelope a bit."

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