The U.S.’s $1.2 Billion Out-of-Control Cell Phone Bill
Policy + Politics

The U.S.’s $1.2 Billion Out-of-Control Cell Phone Bill

REUTERS/Andrew Burton

Every year, the federal government pays about $1.2 billion to provide federal workers with cell phones and service. But despite spending all that money, most agencies aren’t keeping track of who actually uses the phones, and they’re paying wildly different rates for service.

Related: Federal Gov Pays Workers $5 Million to Not Work

That’s according to a new Government Accountability Office report that says most of the 15 agencies it reviewed did not have an inventory of more than 1.5 million government-issued cell phones handed out to federal workers.

Instead of having agency-wide inventory policies, the auditors said, the departments delegated responsibilities to separate offices—making it even more difficult to track who (if anyone) ended up with the phones.

In one example, the GAO cited a 2011 report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration that found that the Internal Revenue Service wasted about $1.1 million on mobile devices and services because of lax device monitoring.

Related: Employee Misconduct Runs Rampant at the EPA

The IG said the IRS couldn’t tell whether phones were actually being used. Over that time period, the agency paid about $48,000 in monthly fees for at least 113 unused devices.

Auditors also said the government could save money if agencies streamlined service provider contracts. Right now, different agencies are paying different rates.

The report said agencies paid a range of rates per line for various service combinations, from $21 for 200 voice minutes, unlimited data and 200 text messages to $122 for unlimited voice, data and text messages. The auditors also said that depending on the package, agencies’ costs varied from $69 to $122 per month depending on data and text plans.

In one example, three separate agencies in Atlanta paid three different monthly service rates for unlimited data on the same type of device—$39, $94, and $120.

The GAO report comes several years after the Office of Management and Budget issued a memo to agencies requiring them to take steps to eliminate wasteful services, including unused mobile devices.

Since then, it appears that agencies still lack a strategy to determine whether their phones are actually being used effectively. The GAO recommended each agency devise its own policy. The agencies concurred with the auditors’ recommendations

Top Reads from The Fiscal Times: