By
updated 3/5/2009 9:25:06 PM ET 2009-03-06T02:25:06

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush loved his Blackberry so much he had it painted into his official state portrait, but a new report shows the state's love affair with wireless devices may have gotten out of hand.

The report released Tuesday shows state agencies spent at least $17 million annually on more than 41,000 cell phones, air cards and PDAs, including Blackberries. That'd be enough to give one to every student at Florida State University in Tallahassee. But the report may only capture a fraction of the devices used by state employees because Florida doesn't currently have a way to track all the devices and their cost.

State agencies "frequently" purchase cell phones independently and report costs inconsistently, possibly lumping the cost for cell phones and PDAs into the cost of total telephone expenses. That's according to the report from the Florida Legislature's watchdog agency, the Office of Program Policy and Analysis & Government Accountability. By purchasing cell phones independently, agencies aren't helping the state negotiate a better group rate.

The report, now being looked at by lawmakers, recommends the state establish consistent policies on wireless devices, laying out who should have them. At least 10 states already have such policies. Currently, individual agencies establish policies governing the devices, but those vary widely.

The report also recommends agencies report yearly how many and what type of wireless devices they have and how much they spend on them.

The data OPPAGA was able to compile shows that of 33 state agencies the three biggest Blackberry users with more than 1,000 PDAs each were the Department of Health, Department of Transportation and Department of Children & Families.

The Department of Corrections reported having 7,000 cell phones, twice the number of the next biggest user, the Department of Health. Department of Corrections spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger says 2,000 of the department's phones are only capable of text and are for emergency response. On average the department spends $7 a month for the wireless devices it has, Plessinger said. The department has 27,000 employees.

Though it's unclear what effect, if any, the report will have, some agencies may want to reduce the number of devices they have. The Department of Transportation, for example, reported it reviewed its usage of wireless devices and was able to cut nearly 500 Blackberries, cell phones and pagers.

Some agency employees may want to return their state-issued devices.

Earlier this week, Kevin Cate, a spokesman for Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, sent an e-mail to Capitol reporters announcing he was turning in his state-issued Blackberry. Cate's decision was unrelated to the report, and others in his office have ditched their state Blackberries as well.

"I'm shedding my state issued Blackberry, saving taxpayers a little more than $55 a month," Cate wrote. "No, this wasn't a mandate from our state's fiscal watchdog, but you're safe to conclude that this decision falls right in line with her fiscally responsible, accessible approach to governing."

He added the number to his personal Blackberry.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments