State may not need all those cellphones

Published 4:48 pm Wednesday, August 24, 2022

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A billion here, a billion there; pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

That oft-quoted phrase about government spending and the federal debt may never have been said precisely like that by the person to whom it’s been long attributed, Sen. Everett Dirksen of Illinois, who served in Congress from 1933 to 1969.

Still the sentiment behind it, though scaled down by a factor of a couple of thousand, could be aptly attributed to this week’s effort by State Auditor Shad White to identify another example of government waste.

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White’s office released its analysis of cellphone usage by five state agencies over a one-month period from last year. They found that 30% of the government-issued phones were rarely used — 50 minutes or less for that month. Assuming that’s typical, the state auditor’s office estimates that those five agencies could save about $350,000 a year just by turning those little-used phones in and canceling their service. If extrapolated for all of state government, the savings would push toward a half-million dollars.

Admittedly, that’s a lot of extrapolating. The one month studied might have been an aberration. It was June after all, a time when a lot of employees take vacations. Maybe these phones were so little used because there were so few people working.

Nevertheless, we suspect that state government routinely hands out cellphones to employees without considering whether they really need one to do their job.

With nearly every American adult carrying a cellphone these days, many of them with unlimited minutes, chances are that many state employees could get by just using their personal phone on the occasion when they have to make a call for work and they’re not near an office landline. They probably are doing that anyway, given the awkwardness of carrying two cellphones around.

A half-million dollars a year may not sound like much in a state budget that runs more than $20 billion.

But to borrow from Everett Dirksen, or whoever gets credit for coining the expression, government waste, once multiplied many times over, adds up after a while.

— Greenwood Commonwealth