Earlier this month, the city’s internal auditor released a report highlighting issues within the city’s cell phone program.
In the report, auditors found the some $528,000 program lacks oversight and needs policy to protect against abuse, data breaches and unnecessary spending.
But the findings that some experts consider to be an example of mismanagement, inefficient government and a lack of accountability aren’t drawing much reaction from the city’s elected leaders.
A spokesman for Mayor Greg Fischer declined to comment on the findings. The president of the Metro Council also declined to comment and the vice chair of the council’s minority caucus chalked up the findings as inconsequential.
Richard Beliles, chairman of the Kentucky chapter of Common Cause, said the response, or lack thereof, from local leaders is borderline unethical.
Common Cause, of which Beliles has been involved with for nearly 40 years, is a nonpartisan group with offices in 35 states that promotes “open, honest and accountable government.”
He said the audit’s findings are certainly concerning and warrant a proactive response from local leaders.
“They can’t let something like this linger,” he said.
‘A Small Problem’
The internal auditors reviewed a year’s worth of cell device activity within Louisville Metro government. During that time the city spent nearly $528,000 on some 900 cell phones, according to the audit published earlier this month.
May R. Porter, the city’s chief audit executive, included in the final report a letter in which she notes the scope of the audit included “interviews of key personnel and examination of supporting documentation.”
The Office of Internal Audit regularly conducts independent, objective reviews of all city departments, offices, boards and agencies. Following a review, the office submits recommendations to Fischer, the Louisville Metro Council and agency directors.
Auditors found that no policy exists to guide the supply or removal of cell devices to or from city employees. Such a policy is necessary to aid city officials in monitoring the use and potential abuse of the city’s cell program, the audit notes.
Furthermore, the city lacks a uniform process for collecting and tracking cell devices of terminated employees or decommissioned cell devices. This inadequacy, in some instances, leads to cell devices remaining active and in service for months after an employee is terminated, auditors found.
The lacking oversight “increases the risk of a data breach as many cellular devices contain sensitive information,” auditors reported.
Additionally, auditors were unable to determine if proper policies are followed regarding the wiping of data on cell devices to “prevent unauthorized access to confidential information.” And in some instances auditors were unable to determine if a cell device purchase was properly authorized.
Councilwoman Marilyn Parker, vice chair of the council’s minority Republican caucus, said the issues noted in the audit are paltry.
“In the grand scheme of things, I think it might be a small problem,” she said.
And rectifying the issues raised would fall to Fischer’s administration, said Parker, from District 18.
“We can’t really control what they do, but we have oversight,” she said. “It’s going to be addressed by the mayor.”
Tony Hyatt, a spokesman for the majority caucus, said council Democrats will await word from Fischer’s administration on how they plan to address issues uncovered in the audit and may, eventually, request a formal briefing in a council committee.
A number of recommendations were made by auditors in an effort to remedy the issues found. The city’s department of information technology, which administers cell phone use and management, agreed to adopt many of those recommendations, according to the audit.
“We’ll keep check on it,” Hyatt said.
‘A Better Way’
The issues raised in the audit are bound to arise when there’s no ownership of public resources, said Jim Waters, president of the Bluegrass Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank based in Lexington.
Waters agrees that addressing the issues, and preventing them, falls on the shoulders of the executive branch.
“There’s obviously missing here a level of accountability and transparency,” he said. “When you don’t have accountability or transparency you have waste, abuse, sloppiness.”
He also posed the question: Does the city of Louisville need to be paying for 900 cell phones?
Cell phones are issued to employees in a vast number of city departments, including the Louisville Zoo, the Library, Public Works, and Codes and Regulations.
“Is there enough work being done and produced to justify the use of 900 cell phones,” he questioned. “There might be a better way.”
And while Waters recognized the cell phone program may constitute a small slice of the city’s some $823 million budget, the issues raised in the internal audit can build and create bigger problems down the road if not addressed swiftly.
“Over a decade, that begins to become real money.”