California says goodbye to half of government-issued cell phones

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California Governor Jerry Brown's state is in a budget crisis; as a result, he has now directed state agencies to take back nearly 48,000 government-paid phones, or half of the 96,000 mobile phones the state pays for. The great take-back will happen June 1, and Brown estimates that the confiscations will result in the state saving $20 million annually.

"It is difficult for me to believe that 40 percent of all state employees must be equipped with taxpayer-funded cell phones," the governor said in a statement. "Some state employees, including department and agency executives who are required to be in touch 24 hours a day and seven days a week, may need cell phones, but the current number of phones out there is astounding."

In addition, Brown wants every state department and agency to examine and justify all cell phone usage. He reasons that even with a 50-percent reduction, one-fifth of all state employees will still have cell phones. And he thinks that is too much.

Brown's $20-million savings estimate assumes that the average cell-phone bill is around $36 per month, a figure provided by the Department of Finance. Brown also noted that the state doesn't want to incur early termination fees so the 48,000 phone take-back goal might not be feasible.

"In the face of a multi-billion dollar budget deficit, a cell phone may not seem like a big expense," Brown said. "But spending $20 million, and perhaps far more than that, on cell phones can't be justified. We're facing a budget crisis in California and I want to achieve all possible, reasonable savings. We have one of the best state workforces in America, and I am confident that all state employees will understand the need for this move and will cooperate."

It is an interesting move given the fact that it's well understood that mobile phones boost productivity in the workplace. Will California state agencies be even less productive? Will costs go up in other areas? (There are many opinions on how inept government agencies are in the first place). But then again, we have been reporting on the "consumerization" of the enterprise throughout 2010. Employees are bringing in their own smartphones to work. That trend may very well fill the hole created by the confiscation of phones in California. It will be a development worth watching to see if the consumerization trend has truly taken hold. - Lynnette