Audit: State overspends on cellphone plans
By Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Press Bureau | November 05,2013
MONTPELIER — State Auditor Doug Hoffer says an examination of state cellphone records shows the state is purchasing far more minutes, data and phones than it uses, and that “under-utilization of the services” constitutes “a significant waste of taxpayer money.”
The performance audit by Hoffer’s office reviewed charges in 2012 for more than 3,000 state-issued cellphones, and found that of the 11 million minutes purchased by various government agencies, more than 5 million went unused.
Of the 2,900 cellphones with “bundled” voice and data plans, according to Hoffer, 42 percent used little or no data. And 9 percent of state-issued cellphones, Hoffer said, weren’t used at all.
All told, Hoffer said the under-utilization is costing the state $272,00 in unnecessary expenses annually — more than 15 percent of the $1.64 million the state spends annually on cellphone bills.
Hoffer said centralizing the coordination of cellphone plans for disparate government departments, and creating statewide guidelines for “aspects of cellphone management,” could yield future savings.
“The Department of Information and Innovation technically has authority for all of this stuff, but for some reason, at least until now, departments and agencies had been acting pretty much independently,” Hoffer said Monday.
In 2012, according to the audit, the state had 115 cellphone buying pools, which enable the sharing of voice minutes and data usage within individual buying groups. Hoffer said the state ought to be availing itself of the economies of scale that come with running such a large organization.
“It’s got to be centralized,” Hoffer said.
Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding said he appreciates Hoffer’s focus on the cellphone issue, and that he agrees with the auditor’s findings. Spaulding said the state will use the performance audit as a “springboard” for a “comprehensive statewide framework governing the purchase, acceptable usage and management of not only cellular devices ... but also statewide land(line) use as well.”
“We’ve been waiting for this report anxiously, because the governor and this administration believe that the areas of cellphone usage, and how it might affect land lines, are ripe for review and discussion,” Spaulding said.
Spaulding said the state likely can’t forgo landlines altogether, but that some state employees, like him, communicate almost exclusively by cell, or could do so without any disruption in productivity. Prospects for landline savings, Spaulding said, means the state might be able to squeeze more than the $272,000 in waste that Hoffer found from its annual communications costs.