Audit reveals hundreds of NCDOT cellphones never used during 1 year

by: Linzi Sheldon Updated:

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An audit from the North Carolina Department of Transportation inspector general found that hundreds of NCDOT cellphones were never used or minimally used during fiscal year 2011, costing taxpayers $369,607.

NCDOT Inspector General Eric Boyette said the audit, which was completed in August, was required by a law enacted last year.

The audit looked at the NCDOT's use of mobile phones, data cards, and pagers from July 2010 to June 2011.

In the Charlotte region, it adds up to more than $26,132 in cellphones that were unused or used very little by local NCDOT highway staff. That number does not include phones used by other departments with employees all across the state, like the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Eyewitness News showed the report to some taxpayers.

"Scary, isn't it?" John Brown said. "It's very scary."

Boyette said he and his staff found in some cases, phones weren't being used or were used rarely because they were backups to be used for emergencies only.

Others were used to run digital message boards.

In some cases, when staff members left a unit, their phones were just put in drawers or passed on to other employees who didn't need them.

The NCDOT said not anymore.

"Now it's being institutionalized with [a] new form," said Greer Beaty, NCDOT spokeswoman and director of communications. "The manager needs to justify why that particular employee and that particular position needs a state-issued phone."

Beaty said the NCDOT had also been taking some proactive steps to cut costs, because it was aware of the need to review cell phone use.

"The business practices had not kept up with the change in technology and the change in staff," she said.

She said they are also reevaluating some employees' phone plans and switching them to plans with other staff that allow them to share minutes.

NCDOT's Chief Financial Officer Mark Foster also wrote in a response to the audit that moving forward they will track unused or underused cellphones and "require an explanation of why underutilized mobile communications devices are required."