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EPA Could Save Taxpayers Thousands of Dollars Through Stronger Oversight of Mobile Phones

The agency “missed an opportunity” to better use $12,000 spent over two years on unnecessary voice and data services, watchdog finds.

The Environmental Protection Agency could put thousands of taxpayer dollars to better use annually by improving its oversight of agency-issued mobile phones, according to a watchdog. 

The EPA’s inspector general reported on Friday that the agency does not mandate justifications on phone use, determine if offices have standard operating procedures for phone management, confirm the required forms were completed before processing phone orders, or give employees sufficient information on call and data limitations. These issues are occurring at the program office and regional levels, according to the inspector general. 

The EPA was billed about $4.8 million in fiscal 2017 and about $5.6 million in fiscal 2018 for mobile phone use and services. “The EPA missed an opportunity to better use at least $12,000 spent on unused mobile phone voice and data services,” said the report. “The [EPA Office of Information and Technology Operations’] over-reliance on the program offices and regions to perform key oversight activities also resulted in the missed opportunity to improve the agency’s mobile phone program.”

As a result, the inspector general recommended that the agency create guidelines to implement the oversight duties outlined in its mobile computing policy, bolster information on its intranet, and update metrics in quarterly phone use reports to program and regional offices. 

Two of the agency’s three contracts with phone carriers offer pooled minute plans. The utilization reports have “only the percentage of pooled plan voice minutes—and not the pooled data—used,” according to the inspector general. “Without information regarding mobile phone use—both data and voice—that does not affect monthly pooled plans, users are not given the opportunity to use their mobile phones efficiently.” Despite the fact that the majority of EPA employees and contractors use their phones for email, the agency has not updated how it reviews phone use, the inspector general said.

The IG conducted this audit from October 2018 to August 2019 by reviewing directives, guidance, policies and other documentation related to the cell phone policy; studying data from a combined 12,481 cell phones from fiscal 2017 and 2018; and interviewing agency staff. The agency concurred with the recommendations and has already taken corrective actions.