California's governor has ordered the return of half of government-paid cell phones currently in use by state employees.
The cost-cutting measure -- the first executive order issued by Gov. Jerry Brown since he took office Jan. 3 for his third non-consecutive term -- is expected to save the state $20 million a year. That figure is based on the state finance office's estimation of $36 a month for each device.
Brown already served two terms as governor of the state from 1975 to 1983 before being elected again last November.
The order directs state agency and department leaders to collect and turn in 48,000 government-paid cell phones by June 1. The state currently pays for 96,000 phones for state employees.
"It is difficult for me to believe that 40% of all state employees must be equipped with taxpayer-funded cell phones," Brown said in a statement.
He acquiesced that 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 the state to pay for their phones. However, he called the current number of phones paid for by the state "astounding."
Brown said that it might not be possible to reach the June 1 target, as he aims to end wireless contracts in a way that will not require the state to pay early termination fees. However, his hope is that the state will reach the 48,000 mark even earlier than June, he said in a statement.
Brown is also asking every department and agency to review and justify all cell phone usage, and "to procure the most appropriate and cost-effective phone, data, Internet, and other usage plans for those cell phones and smartphones for which a significant business need does exist," according to the order.
California's budget is in dire straits, with the state facing a $24.5 billion shortfall over the next year and a half. The cell phone order is part of a budget Brown unveiled this week that includes other drastic cost-cutting measures.
Government-issued cell phones are commonplace for both federal and state governments, but it's sometimes been difficult for agencies to track if employees are always using the phones for work purposes. California in the past has discovered abuses in use of state-paid phones, with employees rampantly using the devices for personal business.
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