Does state need 3,441 cell phones?

Published 6:00 am Monday, December 3, 2001

PEER, the Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluationand Expenditure Review, threw up a big, red budget flag for theMississippi legislature last week.

The panel, which keeps an eye on legislators and state spending,reported that Mississippi’s state agencies spend more for cellularphone service than neighboring states and use too many serviceproviders. Here are the examples:

In Mississippi, cell phone costs average 22 cents a minute, and459 different cellular agreements are used. In Arkansas, theaverage cost is 11 cents a minute, and they have the good sense touse one statewide plan from one vendor. For Alabama, the averagecost is 10 cents a minute, with 10 call plans from three vendors.The border state with the next highest cost was Louisiana, with 167plans at 17 cents a minute.

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Also of interest in the PEER report is the fact that taxpayersare picking up the tab for 3,441 cell phones used by stateemployees. While that’s just a fraction of the state’s 31,258full-time employees, we have to wonder if cell phones have becomenecessities or luxuries. Keeping tabs on 3,441 cell phones, withservice provided through 459 different contracts, must be afull-time job in itself.

So far this year, the state has paid $1.9 million for cellularservices. The state paid $2 million last year. Of the 81 stateagencies that use cell phones, only 29 reported having formal usepolicies. That alone opens the door for possible abuse.

The report urged the Legislature to require the Department ofInformation Technology Services, or ITS, to establish generalpolicies for state agencies on cell phone procurement and use. Alimited number of vendors should also be listed, PEER said.

As the state struggles in these tough economic times — withmost state agencies facing cuts for the third straight year –every dollar must be stretched as far as it can go. We hope theLegislature answers PEER’s call.