Savings to be had in state's cell phone usage - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Savings to be had in state's cell phone usage

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JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

Over the last ten years, cell phone use in Mississippi by state agencies has increased as expected.

"It's really changed the way we do business, not just in the private sector but in the public sector as well," said State Auditor Stacey Pickering.

Pickering says a few years ago there was not much oversight and a lot of waste of taxpayer money with a multitude of plans and service providers.

"Low minute plans and high minute usage and it was running up the tab," said Pickering.

To better control costs, the legislature back in 2008 passed a law requiring agencies to implement a system to account for wireless communication devices, but according to the Cell Phone Usage and Accountability Report from 2009, issued by the state auditor's office, the law has not necessarily achieved what it set out to do.

The Department of Information Technology Services however argues the law has increased accountability in justifying cell phone use.

"Sometimes a cellular service is the best value for the taxpayers," said Pickering.

In fiscal year 2004, the state had 5,064 cell phones accounted for with a total cost of more than $2.5 million. For fiscal year 2008, the number of phones jumped by 20% to 6,082 with a total cost of more than $3.1 million, which is an increase of 23% from the cost of 2004. If you ask the state auditor, there's always room for improvement.

"It may be an issue of convenience but is it one of necessity and I think that's where we'll see the greatest savings," said Pickering.

The Department of Public Safety leads all other state agencies with more than 700 cell phones, followed by the Department of Transportation with just under 700. There's also the issue of duplication of services, asking the question, if you have a landline phone, do you need a cell phone.

"There's always going to be som6e exceptions, but you'll be amazed at how many people actually spend the vast majority of their time in their office and they're assigned a cell phone and they have a landline," said Pickering.

To save money, Pickering says it all comes down to agencies, regulating themselves through internal controls.

"I hope every agency head goes through that practice every year and it would really help when it comes to cell phone use and realize, you know what, we may be spending money we don't need to," said Pickering.

The Cellular Usage and Accountability Reports are put out every few years by the auditor's office with recommendations to be used as a guide for lawmakers. The next reports will come out in the next year or two.

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