More phones, more expense, but tighter controls

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 22, 2009

Remember the internal audit five years ago that showed Mississippi was paying an array of vendors for an array of cell-phone services and packages that was both byzantine and ridiculously expensive?

With justified outrage and righteous indignation, the Legislature jumped right on that problem in with a 2006 law to curb cell phone usage among state agencies in Mississippi and save some of the $2 million in bills being paid for 5,000 phones.

Taxpayers don’t need to be tapped for personal calls, lawmakers insisted, and basic, no-frills service was ample.

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Well, guess what? A state auditor’s report shows that since the state clamped down, more than 1,000 wireless devices have been added to taxpayers’ expense and the cost is up 25 percent 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,” Auditor Stacey Pickering reported.

One thing has changed. David Litchliter, director of the state Department of Information Technology Services, said there is now at least the potential for control. Mostly it’s because the 2006 law added more paperwork requirements.

“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,” Litchliter reported to lawmakers.

Yes. Accountable. More phones. More expense. But accountable.