Checking for county cell phone static
January 4, 2011
With more than 17,000 cell phones, Blackberries and other mobile communications devices out there in the hands of Los Angeles County employees, supervisors sent a loud and clear signal to department heads Tuesday:
Look who’s talking—and make sure that the public isn’t being stuck with any unwarranted roaming, texting, directory assistance and other service charges.
On the heels of an audit that found widespread cell phone abuse and lax oversight in the Department of Children and Family Services, supervisors voted to initiate a countywide policy to make sure proper controls are in place across the county’s entire mobile communications network. There currently is no centralized oversight of the county’s cell phones; instead, that responsibility falls to individual departments.
It’s a big responsibility—and it’s growing. An inventory of handheld communication devices by the county’s Chief Information Office forecasts that the number of cell phones and similar devices being used by county workers will grow from 17,657 this fiscal year to 19,304 in the next one.
Supervisors, acting on a motion by Michael D. Antonovich and Gloria Molina, on Tuesday directed all county department heads to conduct internal reviews of their cell phone control practices and report back on whether they found any issues similar to those that turned up in the DCFS audit.
That probe found at least $514,000 in potentially inappropriate charges as well as 250 cell phones whose users could not be identified and 1,400 cell phones that were running up monthly service fees even though they weren’t being used. One employee racked up more than $2,000 in personal international calls but did not reimburse the department, while another’s phone was linked to $8,000 in service charges, including roaming charges from Mexico. Still another employee ran up $2,827 in texting charges over the course of a year.
DCFS reported a combined total of 3,699 cell phones and Blackberry/PDA devices in the Chief Information Office’s inventory—nearly 21% of the county total. The department spends about $2.2 million a year on its cell phones. The county’s overall spending on mobile devices could not immediately be determined. A Chief Executive Office analysis to determine whether the county would save money by giving employees a stipend for cell phones, instead of paying the bills directly, was launched before the DCFS audit came out but has not been completed.
The motion passed by supervisors on Tuesday also directed the county Auditor-Controller, which conducted the DCFS audit, to cast its net more broadly in the next 12 months to ensure that various county departments have enacted cell phone policies and controls and are complying with them. And it asked for a progress report in 30 days on how the DCFS is progressing on implementing reform recommendations spelled out in the Auditor-Controller’s audit.