A recent audit of New Jersey's telecommunications billing and contracting procedures found major flaws totaling more than $3 million in wasted taxpayer dollars.

Conducted by the recently formed Office of the State Comptroller (OSC), the report focuses on the Office of Information Technology (OIT), which oversees telecommunications billings for the executive branch and landline billing for the judicial and legislative branches of government.

The audit found that nearly one in six of all the state government's phone lines should be disconnected. And a random sample of 518 cell phones revealed that 82 percent of them didn't have written justifications for their employees' use, according to the audit.

Although the audit focused on the OIT, it concluded that much responsibility rested with individual state departments that didn't report the disconnected, unused or unnecessary landlines to the OIT after contacting the vendor.

"According to OIT officials, state departments are responsible for disconnecting unused or unnecessary land-based telephone lines by directly contacting the vendor," the report said. "Subsequent to contacting the vendor, departments are required to provide OIT with notification of the land-based telephone lines that have been disconnected."

This finding was backed by a response letter from New Jersey Chief Technology Officer Adel Ebeid: "Unless OIT received a notification to disconnect a telephone line, the state will incur a monthly fee for that telephone line."

The 21-page report from the Comptroller's Office found that many state departments weren't keeping documentation to justify employees' use of cell phones and that the state extended telecommunications contracts without opening them up to bid, as required by law. Also, unreasonable expenses stemmed from employees calling directory assistance (such as 411), even though free services were available. The comptroller said former employees' phone lines weren't disconnected, some for years, which amounted to significant amounts of unnecessary expenses.

"The state is paying hundreds of thousands of dollars every month for phone lines that are not even being used," State Comptroller Matthew Boxer said in a press release (http://www.state.nj.us/comptroller/news/docs/oit_press_release_07_07_2010.pdf). "Examples of government waste don't get much clearer than that."

New Jersey's independent Comptroller's Office was created in January 2008 and is charged with measuring government performance in an effort to bring greater efficiency and transparency to state agencies. This is its first telecommunications audit.

In addition, the OSC found the following issues and areas of waste:

  • More than 18,000 landlines could have been eliminated, saving the state more than $2.8 million annually.
  • Nearly 1,400 wireless lines could have been eliminated, saving the state $412,000 annually. 
  • More than $250,000 in "unreasonable costs" was incurred to call directory assistance, or 411 services, during a one-year period. 
  • A one-time savings of more than $40,000 for disconnected data service lines that the state says it's owed by Verizon. 
  • Many state departments do not maintain documentation to justify their employees' wireless device assignments -- about 19,000 such devices are being used by executive branch employees.

Unnecessary Phones Disconnected

In response to the audit, which the Comptroller's Office took 10 months to complete, 18,265 landlines have been disconnected or suspended for 30 days pending final disconnection, the OIT disconnected the state's 1,394 unused wireless lines and has stated it will conduct periodic reports of lines that are no longer in use.

The OIT has already contacted Verizon to have 411 calls blocked from state-issued phones and will revise its telephone policy to include some of the OSC's recommendations.

"We are reviewing the findings of that report and currently

Karen Wilkinson  |  Staff Writer