Government waste seems to be a sore point these days with taxpayers, but apparently not so much with some public sector employees. In a report published by the Los Angeles Times, in 2009, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services spent about $2.2 million on about 5,000 cell phones, although county auditors say that $514,000 was for devices never used, personal overseas calls and other improper uses.
County auditor-controller Wendy Watanabe said that about one-quarter of the monies spent was wasted on “unnecessary or inappropriate” charges. Watanabe said that it was likely that the “department paid for inappropriate charges in the prior and current years as well.”
Some of the abuses included poor records of who actually had the phones. Welfare officials could not determine the identity of users of over 250 phones.
Excessive long distant charges were commonplace, including one employee with over $2,000 in personal long-distance charges.
Auditors discovered the department was paying for 532 computer broadband access cards, yet only 222 were in actual use. Over $90,000 was billed by service providers on the unused cards.
Over 1,400 phones were activated, but never given to employees, incurring fees of over $330,000 in service charges. Earlier this year, the Times reported the department refused to provide phones to child abuse investigators.
Welfare officials are now evaluating its policy of denying investigators the cellphones after learning that so many were sitting around unused.
The department has been under fire throughout the year, and its longtime department head, Trish Ploehn, was recently removed from her position.