State cellphones squander $500,000

SUNDAY, NOV. 20, 2011

SEATTLE – A state audit has found Washington is wasting money on 2,000 idle state employee cellphones.

The audit report, released Friday by state Auditor Brian Sonntag, found the state paid more than $500,000 in a year on phones that weren’t being used, the Seattle Times reported.

It comes right after Gov. Chris Gregoire ordered state agencies to reduce phone costs. The Office of Financial Management responded to Gregoire’s order by pushing agencies to make sure phones and plans are only assigned to employees who need them for work, and to closely monitor and find other ways to save on phone services.

Sonntag’s office analyzed mobile devices from March 2010 to February 2011 after hearing other states saved money by changing cellphone policies.

The audit found the state spent $9.2 million on cellphone use in one year. Some 6,679 phones, accounting for $1.8 million in costs, were identified as being used minimally or not used at all. And many phones were locked into inefficient plans.

“This is money that does not need to be spent, obviously. The fact it was screams for attention,” Sonntag said.

The use of some 22,000 phones assigned to 89 state agencies was reviewed in the audit. The phones were purchased through multiple carriers – including Verizon, Sprint and AT&T – and the contracts were maintained by the Department of Information Services, according to Sonntag’s office.

The Auditor’s Office has recommended that agencies turn in all unused or little-used phones, use more prepaid phones, offer stipends to employees to use their personal phones for state business, and contract with a cellphone-optimization specialist who can match phone use with cost-effective plans.

Sonntag wrote in the report that if the state “optimizes” cellphone plans, it could save $9 million to $18 million over the next five years.

In its response to the audit, OFM pointed out that agencies already have been changing their cellphone use in recent months or years.

The Department of Social and Health Services canceled 1,113 phones, the Department of Corrections canceled 430 phones and the Department of Labor and Industries canceled 142 phones. Between the reductions and cost-saving measures, the state is saving more than $732,000 a year, OFM said.

“We are clamping down. It makes sense,” said Thomas Shapley, a Social and Health Services spokesman. “The phones we cut were the ones that needed to be deactivated, ones that had little or no use and no justification for security or emergency-management reasons.”

There are three comments on this story »