Published January 28, 2013
Legislation seeks to trim down the state's $9.2 million cell phone billBY JIMMY LOVAAS
Can you hear me now? If youre a state employee using a state-paid cell phone the answer might be, not for much longer.Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, is sponsoring a bill that would prohibit state agencies or departments from issuing cell phones to anyone unless the cell phone is integral to the safety of the employee in the execution of his or her duties.Current policy by the Office of the Chief Information Officer (O.C.I.O.) is less restrictive, only requiring that the employees job require fieldwork or travel where landline phones are inaccessible or inefficient, or if their work requires real-time communication, or if their job requires them to be on-call or immediately available.The new for-safety-only restriction wouldnt apply to elected officials, department or agency heads, or a director within a department or agency.The legislation appears to be in response to a Nov. 2011 performance audit conducted by the State Auditors Office (S.A.O.) that evaluated the use and costs of nearly 22,000 cell phones used by state employees in 89 state agencies.According to the S.A.O. report, during a 12-month period, the state spent $9.2 million through five master contracts with Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T. They also determined 6,679 phones, or roughly 30 percent, of the cell phones were used infrequently or not at all during the 12-month study period costing the state spent $1.8 million.According to a report by O.C.I.O, early action taken by state agencies by Feb. 2012 had already led to a reduction or optimization of 6,416 cellular devices, saving taxpayers nearly $1.7 million.Bentons SB 5381 would also incorporate the S.A.O.s recommendation requiring O.C.I.O. to contract with a cell phone optimization specialist, look at using prepaid phones, and consider reimbursing employees for using their personal cell phones.