Welfare Unit Cell Phone Calls Cost LA County $500K

Monthly fees add up on 1,400 unused phones

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Reacting to a report that more than $500,000 was spent on inappropriate or unnecessary cellular telephone calls made by child welfare workers in 2009, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors moved on Tuesday to curb spending on more than 5,000 mobile telephones.

Auditor-Controller Wendy Watanabe found that about a quarter of the Department of Children and Family Services cellular telephone budget of more than $2.2 million went toward questionable charges.

Long distance calls, text messages and directory assistance calls that appeared unrelated to work were part of the problem. But the department also paid fees for features and services that employees didn’t use, including monthly service fees on more than 1,400 phones that sat unused.

Supervisors Michael Antonovich and Gloria Molina called for all county department heads to review employee cell phone use. They also told the county’s chief executive officer to make sure that DCFS implements Watanabe’s recommendations.

The board voted its unanimous support for the plan, which will also require the CEO to develop a countywide policy for cell phone usage and reducing costs by pooling minutes and data access.

The changes are likely just one of many that DCFS will face as management changes hands. Former director Trish Ploehn was replaced Dec. 14 by Antonia Jimenez, who had been the county’s deputy chief executive officer responsible for child welfare. Jimenez will serve as acting director until a replacement for Ploehn is found.

The department has been working to improve training, reporting and interagency communication, but at least 67 children have died of abuse or neglect since January 2008 after being referred to the department, according to county statistics.

Officials have admitted that many of the deaths involved case management errors. In August, the county’s Office of Independent Review issued a report that said Ploehn’s department had not fully complied with a 2007 state law requiring the release of numerous records in fatality cases.

The county owns more than 17,000 cell phones, according to a posting on Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s website. The board expects a report from the CEO in 30 days.

(©2010 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

  • Brayt

    You government workers who waste our money are the most selfish, ignorant people on the planet. Do your job well and ethically or go work for yourselves.

  • Anthony Azizian

    they should have to pay for all the calls they made that had nothing to do with their job, but i am not surprised by these people if not by our gov who gives money for free to people who sit on their butts all day while i have to bust my butt to earn an honest living, and im nit targeting one ethnicity because all kinds of people work the system and the gov allows it.

  • samatha

    One of the most corrupted departments here in LOS ANGELES COUNTY. I am so worth getting on their ass right now.. I am willing to install cameras in my home for any news so they can get their story. Since i am currently being investigated by them… Any reporters or news leave me a message… lets get these guys!!!

  • ginny

    How about not obtaining a phone until an employee actually is in place and presents a valid reason for a need for the phone, like they do field work on a daily basis. When issuing the phones how about limiting them to only be able to make/receive calls, no texting, etc. Those still do exist and can do the job. How about blocking long distance and international calls, that capability is also available. How about making each person issued a phone supply justification for the calls they make for each billing period? Fraud and misuse would stop real quick. How about making employees repay for personal calls/usage? Make each employees supervisor approve the bills/usage.

    I work in the private sector and I have to obtain my work cell phone on my own. Then each month I have to submit the bill and an accounting of the calls made for work. And I cannot exceed $50.00 a month for payback. I’m on the road 5 days a week. For that reason I only have a phone for work purposes so there is no mixing of personal versus work calls.

    Years ago I worked for a company that reviewed every employees office phone bills and it was frightening the number/amount of calls for international and long distance personal calls people made. This was not a small company, it was a national company and we found a huge amount of fraud/theft by this review. There is no excuse for misuse and employee theft, and this is only one department.

  • Mandy

    The headline is misleading and unfortunately, because there are people who only read headlines and don’t take the time to read the article, many will not know that this is due to WASTE. That is bad and it’s an effect of someone not doing their job.
    At the same time, not only do our social workers NEED cell phones, they NEED LAPTOPS. So many agencies, non-profits, schools, etc. all helping, or trying to help, children need to communicate.
    That’s all. I’m not a Social Worker. Just someone who believes our “lower than before” crime statistics have as much, if not more, to do with community policeing and just good ole fashioned “neighboring.”

  • Richard in Castaic

    I wish all you guy would quit complaining, the tax payers can afford it. Don’t be such tight wads!

    • pablo29

      The taxpayers can’t afford to pay off the 365 million deficit there is now. Why don’t you donate a few thousand towards paying it off. I’m sure the other taxpayers and their children who are going to be paying this off when they come of age would be grateful.

  • Max

    Just effin idiots!!!

  • pablo29

    Make them PAY for all their personal calls and establish better protocol for the usage of these phones and audit the records. It also should be made a part of the process when one is hired that if you use it for pers calls then you will be subject to termination. Use your own phone to talk to your buds and family not my dime. Fire them all and hire more responsible people who can follow the rules. Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. If you can’t deal with it call 1-800-555-waah.

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