Favorite

Tracking state cell phones 

Do California-style cuts really save money?

State governments across the country are looking for ways to trim their budgets as the country tries to pull itself out of recession. In January, California Gov. Jerry Brown made headlines by ordering that half the cell phones used by state employees, and paid for by the government, would be eliminated. The plan would cut 48,000 devices, saving the government $20 million.

The move was welcomed by the Tea Party and other deficit hawks who lauded the governor's decision as a model of fiscal responsibility. Others weren't so sure. Technology analysts fear the move might actually hurt the government, eliminating efficiencies and employee mobility.

In Arkansas, the Office of State Procurement (OSP) handles cell phone contracts for state agencies. The OSP is part of the Western States Contracting Alliance (WSCA), an organization formed to allow states to cooperatively negotiate contracts with vendors in order to keep costs down. The WSCA and the OSP negotiate rates with three providers: AT&T, Sprint and Verizon. Agencies then choose the plans that are right for each employee. In fiscal year 2010, the latest data available from OSP, state agencies had a total of 15,074 lines (meaning cell phone plans, data plans and portable wireless Internet devices for laptop computers) at a cost of $8,921,915.95.

The OSP gave the Times documents obtained from the telephone companies showing the highest number of lines each agency had at any one time during the year and the total annual cost of those services. The number of lines used by each agency changes from month to month depending on the agency's needs.

According to those documents, the Department of Human Services leads all other agencies and higher education institutions with 2,999 lines at a cost of $1,616,588.46 per year. The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences came in second with 1,508 lines at a cost of $1,329,574.64. The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville rounded out the top three, spending $823,485.87 on 1,299 lines in fiscal year 2010.

Julie Munsell, who until recently served as the communications director for DHS, said cell phones are a good investment.

"I could understand why people would be skeptical of the cost for such a large agency, but we have 7,000 employees, give or take," Munsell says. "We use them for two reasons and one is accessibility. There are people within the organization that you really need to be able to reach 24 hours per day, seven days a week, whether they're managing or just providing a service and you need to get hold of them. The other is for folks who are in transit most of the time. I would guess that if you cross-referenced the number of miles that an employee travels with the use of cell phones you would find a very strong correlation."

When combined with all of its satellite campuses, including Cooperative Extension, the University of Arkansas System outspent every other state entity at $2,478,484.79 per year. That figure does not include the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

John Diamond, associate vice chancellor of university relations, says cell phones are a time-saving tool and can be helpful in emergency situations.

"[Just look at] our resident assistants and resident directors at our housing facilities," Diamond says. "They have cell phones because their job is to be wandering around the building and making sure everything's OK and that there are no safety or security issues. Before cell phones, they would be hanging around their rooms or the front desk, waiting for someone to come down and tell them there was a water leak on the third floor."

DHS has also started to phase out some land-line telephones, moving toward VOIP (voice over Internet protocol) phones for some employees.

"It's a pilot that started with our technology people but it's spreading throughout the agency," Munsell said. "That's another area where you would hope to see some call savings."

Munsell says every time a contract comes up for renewal or a change is made to a particular plan, the agency re-evaluates employee cell phone use. Diamond says the UA has a written policy to determine who gets cell phones and who does not.

"Usually it's a decision that's made by a dean or a director or somebody higher up, like a vice chancellor or vice provost," he says. "So there is an approval process and the measure of whether or not a person should be given a university phone depends on the nature of that person's work."

For a list of all state agencies who go through the OSP for phone contracts, the number of lines they use and the amount of money they spend, visit www.arktimes.com/statecellphones.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by Gerard Matthews

Readers also liked…

  • Eligible voters removed from rolls

    Arkansas Times reporters contacted election officials around the state to see how they had handled flawed felon data from the secretary of state. Responses varied dramatically.
    • Aug 11, 2016
  • Real Republicans don't do pre-K

    Also, drifting away from trump, Hudson's downfall at ASU and more.
    • Aug 11, 2016
  • Asa on pre-K

    • Aug 17, 2016

Most Shared

Latest in Arkansas Reporter

  • Righting Governor's School

    Summer program at Hendrix targeted once more.
    • Feb 22, 2018
  • Special legislative session could make Arkansas first to regulate pharmacy benefit managers

    On Monday afternoon, Governor Hutchinson said he would call a special session of the Arkansas legislature to address low reimbursement rates provided to pharmacies by middleman companies called pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs.
    • Feb 19, 2018
  • Pharmacy reimbursement fight prompts special session call

    Since Jan. 1, Brandon Cooper, a pharmacist at Soo’s Drug Store in Jonesboro, has turned away a number of patients seeking to fill routine prescriptions. The problem is not that the pharmacy lacks the drugs in question or that the patients don’t have insurance, Cooper said. It’s that the state’s largest insurance carrier, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, recently changed the way it pays for pharmaceuticals.
    • Feb 18, 2018
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

February

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28  

Most Viewed

  • Special legislative session could make Arkansas first to regulate pharmacy benefit managers

    On Monday afternoon, Governor Hutchinson said he would call a special session of the Arkansas legislature to address low reimbursement rates provided to pharmacies by middleman companies called pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs.
  • Bitter pill

    Arkansas is second in the nation when it comes to opioid prescription rates. Those numbers are edging down, but some say the worst of the epidemic may be yet to come.
  • Righting Governor's School

    Summer program at Hendrix targeted once more.
  • Hemp hurdles

    Questions raised by Governor Hutchinson about whether regulations for industrial hemp research conflict with federal law and other queries have apparently slowed progress toward the implementation of the Arkansas Industrial Hemp Act.
  • Tia wins

    Tia Booth emerged from a limousine and into our lives on this year's season of the popular reality show "The Bachelor" to give wife-hunter Arie Luyendyk a little Wiener.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Righting Governor's School

    • I am very grateful my daughter was able to attend Governor's School as something that…

    • on February 22, 2018
  • Re: You can learn a lot in drug court

    • Can you please define the term "mental shortcomings"? By whom, with whom, from whom? The…

    • on February 22, 2018
  • Re: You can learn a lot in drug court

    • She tries to tell you what medicine u can take that the doctor gives u…

    • on February 21, 2018
 

© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation