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Audit: The city of Los Angeles wastes $1M on cell phones

5/11/2011, 8:54 a.m.

LOS ANGELES, Calif.--The city wastes about $1 million per year on nearly 12,000 city-owned cell phones, City Controller Wendy Greuel said today.

Greuel's audit of seven city departments found that the city failed have any central oversight of cell phone contracts, and that no one department is responsible for ensuring city policies are followed.

Twenty percent of all staffers in non-revenue-generating departments have a cell phone, and the annual cost comes to about $4.8 million, according to Greuel.

"Before I began this audit there was no comprehensive list of the number of cell phones issued by the city of Los Angeles,'' Greuel said. "That is no way to manage a $7 billion operation.''

The Information Technology Agency set guidelines for cell phone usage, but it does not have the authority to say which employees should get cell phones paid for by taxpayers.

"Nobody is minding the stores on the city's cell phone usage,'' she said.

Her audit found 563 cell phones in the seven departments had not been used for two to three consecutive months but still cost the city about $46,000 per month.

The audit included 13 recommendations ranging from setting new rules for assigning cell phones to giving employees only a set number of minutes or text-messaging per month. Greuel wants all cell phone contracts to be periodically evaluated.

City Councilman Tony Cardenas has begun an effort to reduce cell phone costs in the Department of General Services and the Information Technology Agency.

But Greuel said Cardenas' efforts do not go far enough.

"It does not go to some of the largest users in the city of Los Angeles. It does not look at the option of stipends, and it does not look at the fact that we need to have a central area where we know how many cell phones we have,'' Greuel said, adding that the city needed to reduce the number of
cell phones.

Kevin Crawford, ITA's general manager, told the City Council last week his department is on track to cut its cell phone budget by 50 percent, while putting 50 percent more pre-paid cell phones in use and getting rid of pagers.

Cardenas said a central authority would likely become a one-size fits all approach.

"When it comes to creating a central authority, I think it's probably just creating more bureaucracy than we need,'' Cardenas said. "You should only get the type of policy that is specific to the user, where everybody who gets a cellphone is getting a contract that best fits them.''

Cardenas said General Services and ITA now have blueprints for cutting cell phone costs that can be passed on to other departments, including self-supporting departments such as the Department of Water and Power and Los Angeles World Airports.

By Richie Duchon | City News Service