Virginia officials think they’ll find cost savings in a comprehensive review of the state’s 21,000 cellular devices, an initiative announced Tuesday, May 3.

State CIO Sam Nixon said Virginia will pay nothing upfront to Tangoe Inc., a telecommunications management firm contracted to examine the state’s cellular usage patterns and identify potential savings opportunities. Instead, the contingency contract will pay the vendor “from savings identified and implemented.” The review will audit cell phones, smartphones and air cards.

A July 2010 report from the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts found the state is spending $6 million annually for 11,000 cell phones. On average, 4,500 of the cell phones — costing $160,000 monthly — went unused. “A phone with [zero] minutes is not necessarily wasteful because the agency may use the phone for emergencies,” the report said.

Virginia lacked adequate tools to help agencies and employees analyze their usage and choose the most cost efficient cell plans, the report concluded, and agencies should eliminate cell phones for employees who don’t need them. Billing errors and usage overages were also identified.

“We expect to optimize usage and find savings opportunities,” Nixon said in a statement. “This will benefit state agencies and local governments that implement recommendations, and ultimately will benefit taxpayers.”

Virginia’s statewide cellular contracts are also available to local governments and higher education. Billing and invoicing is handled by the Virginia Information Technologies Agency.

The contracts are due to expire in June, the auditor said.

Virginia won’t be the first state to re-examine cell phone expenditures. In January, California Gov. Jerry Brown ordered the confiscation of 48,000 cell phones — half the number in use by the state work force. The action was expected to save California $20 million annually.

Matt Williams Matt Williams  |  Contributing Writer

Matt Williams was previously the news editor of Govtech.com, and is now a contributor to Government Technology and Public CIO magazines.