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House Leaders Seek Answers on Reform of Video Relay Services

Federal Communications Commission questioned about its oversight of the programs

The House Republican leadership on two committees sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission questioning if the FCC has sufficient oversight of the federal programs that pay for telephone relay services for deaf and hard-of-hearing callers.
The programs are the Interstate Telecommunications Relay Service Fund and the Video Relay Service, and each is paid for by charges included on Americans’ telephone bills. However, both programs were discovered to be fraught with corruption. Specifically, callers who were not deaf were using the services as a way to increase federal reimbursements to the companies providing the services. In 2009, several arrests were made.
Since the abuses were uncovered, the FCC has instituted reforms including requiring complete disclosure of who is using the program and confirmation that callers are deaf or hearing impaired.
Nonetheless, Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy, Pa.; full committee Chairman Emeritus Joe Barton, Texas; Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, Ore.; Vice Chairman of the Oversight and Investigations and Health Subcommittees Michael Burgess, Texas; and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Vice Chairman Bob Latta, Ohio, sent a letter to FCC Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn and Inspector General David Hunt asking about the commission’s oversight of the programs.
The letter, dated June 27, says, “The committee acknowledges and supports the important role that VRS services have in enhancing the personal and professional lives of deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans.
“The purpose of our inquiry is not to question the merits of the VRS program, but rather, to find out whether the program, in its current form, is efficient, sustainable and sufficiently safeguarded against the possibility of fraud.
“In light of concerns voiced by your agency in a June 28, 2010 Notice of Inquiry, that ‘the [VRS] program is fraught with inefficiencies (at best) and opportunities for fraud and abuse (at worst),’ we believe such oversight is warranted.”
The letter also says, while the FCC claims “its reforms have saved the VRS program approximately $300 million over the past two years, a question remains as to whether its actions have been completely effective at eliminating waste, fraud and abuse in the VRS program.”
The letter includes several questions about the FCC’s actions connected to the issue. Some of those questions are:

  • Why did the FCC allow VRS compensation rates for 2011-2013 remain unchanged despite acknowledging those rates were “set significantly higher” than actual VRS costs?
  • How does the FCC and the ITRS administrator determine “reasonable costs” for providing VRS services?
  • Why did the FCC reject the ITRS administrator’s proposal for a sharper reduction in VRS compensation?

Click here to read the letter