The Public Eye

The Public Eye: Sacramento city audit finds some abuse of city-issued cellphones

The Public Eye
The Public Eye

One city of Sacramento employee averaged more than three hours a day talking on a city-issued cellphone last year. Nearly half that time was spent on personal calls with the same person.

Another worker used a taxpayer-funded cellphone for more than 10,000 minutes in a single month, mostly talking with a family member in another state.

And a third employee, this one with the Fire Department, spent one-quarter of his cellphone minutes talking to his wife.

An audit released last week on city employees’ cellphone use found rare cases of abuse of city-issued wireless devices. Those cases have been referred to the city’s Labor Relations Division and the workers in question face possible discipline, according to the auditor’s report.

“From an ethics perspective and an appropriateness perspective, there are definitely some concerns,” City Auditor Jorge Oseguera said. “If you’re going home and making calls, that’s one thing. But if you’re spending your workday on the phone making personal calls, that’s a bigger concern.”

The city’s policy regulating cellphone use doesn’t explicitly prohibit personal calls, but it does discourage frequent use of the phones for calls that aren’t related to city business, Oseguera said. He noted that the employees whose excessive personal calling was highlighted in the report are on flat-rate cellphone plans, meaning the city wasn’t charged extra for their bills.

The discovery that some city employees were spending hundreds of hours on their cellphones making personal calls was part of an audit released last week by Oseguera’s office that recommended the city place tighter restrictions on its employees’ use of wireless devices. The auditor said the city could save nearly $300,000 a year – or the price tag for three police officers – simply by updating its policies.

Oseguera said he doesn’t think there is widespread abuse of taxpayer-funded cellphones. “The key,” he said, “is that we have an opportunity to better monitor the use and we haven’t taken advantage of that.”

Maria MacGunigal, the city’s chief information officer, wrote a letter to Oseguera in response to his audit that said the Information Technology department is taking several steps to monitor cellphone use.

Among the steps being taken is the development of a “telecommunications management system” that will track excessive phone calls. The system, expected to be in place this fall, will also examine whether employees are using their city-issued tablets and cellphones to buy apps and other programs for personal use.

MacGunigal added in an interview that her department is already conducting monthly reviews of wireless-device use and expects that monitoring to broaden with the new management system.

“We’re looking at this as an opportunity to improve our processes,” she said.

Oseguera said city IT supervisors are “taking many steps in the right direction” to tighten controls on usage of wireless devices.

Of the 4,121 employees in the city workforce in December of last year, 1,179 had taxpayer-funded cellphones, the audit found. Another 488 received a technology allowance that helps pay personal cellphone bills for employees who use those phones for city business.

The audit found that 10 city workers receive both the technology allowance and a city-issued cellphone, costing the city $5,600 last year.

Other savings were identified in Oseguera’s report.

It found that the city spent $53,966 paying bills for cellphones that were not used at all last year.

The auditor recommended that the city get rid of flat-rate plans and switch to “consumption plans” that bill cellphone use by the minute. With hundreds of phones being used sparingly, Oseguera said transferring to the pay-as-you-talk method could save the city $180,000 a year.

Another $104,000 could be saved by eliminating the wireless devices that did not incur any data charges for four or more months last year, according to the audit.