Audit shows cell phone law hasn’t cut costs

Published 12:42 am Tuesday, February 17, 2009

An audit shows a 2006 state law that was supposed to curb cell phone usage among state agencies in Mississippi has failed to save any money.

The legislation was aimed at regulating state cell phones by prohibiting personal use, limiting the number of devices and restricting the amount that could be paid for phones.

The law was passed after a 2004 performance audit showed the state was paying for more than 5,000 government-issued phones. At the time, lawmakers said they expected expenditures could be cut in half by the law.

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However, a recent state auditor’s report shows agencies have added more than 1,000 wireless devices to the state’s tab since 2004, pushing service subscription costs up 25 percent from about $2 million to $2.5 million.

“While the goal of the Legislature may have been to better control state cell-phone use, the law has not resulted in reduced numbers or overall cost reduction, yet,” State Auditor Stacey Pickering wrote in a Feb. 5 letter to lawmakers.

David Litchliter, executive director of the state Department of Information Technology Services, said he thinks the legislation has met other objectives.

“This statute has greatly increased the accountability of both agency management and agency cellular users by requiring managers to justify each cellular device and plan and users to certify detailed cellular billing and compliance with acceptable use policies,” he wrote in a letter accompanying the auditor’s report.

The legislation also set up a policy for streamlining cell phone contracts that officials say has been beneficial to them. In 2007, the state contracted with Cellular South to cover all wireless devices.

Before the legislation, agencies had been contracting through multiple companies without any guidelines and plans to fit their particular needs.

“The volume of usage has resulted in a contract price well below both market cost and below previous options available under state cellular contracts,” Litchliter said.

Pickering’s report offers several recommendations for improving the state’s wireless policy, including a suggestion that the state study its cell phone and landline services to look for ways to eliminate redundancies.