- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2003

ANNAPOLIS Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday vowed to crack down on abusive use of state-issued cell phones that last year rang up a $5.3 million bill.
"There needs to be accountability, and we are evaluating the extent of abuse," Mr. Ehrlich told The Washington Times.
Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, said the administration might revoke cell phones for some workers. "Those are taxpayer dollars, and we are in a budget crisis," he said.
The governor's ire was raised by a recent Department of Legislative Audits report that found an almost complete lack of oversight in the procurement of cell-phone service and use of the phones by state employees. The report concluded that the Department of Budget and Management, or DBM, which is responsible for monitoring the contracts, had failed to follow its own guidelines in accounting for cell phones.
"Oversight was so poor that neither DBM nor the vendors could quantify such basic information as the number of cell phones in use by state agencies and the related annual cost," state Auditor Bruce A. Myers said in the report.
The report not only criticized agencies for not getting reimbursed for personal calls but also for issuing phones that were seldom used at all. The audit determined the state paid $122,000 a year for 1,600 cell phones that were used less than three hours in an entire year. There also were 75 high-volume users who could have saved $130,000 a year by enrolling in a more cost-effective service plan.
Mr. Myers acknowledged that "cell phones have proven useful tools for enhancing efficiency and productivity," but he said the lack of accountability raised serious budgetary concerns.
Despite the lack of comprehensive usage information, the audit identified potential savings of as much as $500,000, according to the report.
The report estimated that the state handed out at least 6,700 cell phones at an annual cost of $5.3 million. The state had anticipated spending just $3.5 million last year.
"We also found that state agencies were not ensuring that cell-phone users were in the proper service plans [based on features and cost] and were giving phones to employees who did not appear to meet the DBM criteria for cell-phone assignment," Mr. Myers said.
The auditors recommended the state adopt a new procurement policy by spring, establish a procedure for monitoring vendor performance, and create comprehensive guidelines for agencies to follow in issuing cell phones and tracking usage.
"The agencies should establish internal policies for cell-phone assignments and use, including periodic monitoring and reimbursement of personal calls," Mr. Myers said.
The audit found other "key problems" in Budget and Management's accounting for the state's cell phones, including the failure to tailor cell-phone contract procurement to match the state's needs, inadequate monitoring of the state's four cell-phone service providers and a lack of centralized oversight of the agencies as required by the department's own guidelines.


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