Attorney General Jay Nixon launched into an impassioned defense of his employees' use of Blackberry devices and cell phones in his response to criticism leveled in a state audit of his office.
State Auditor Claire McCaskill noted that a high number of calls made on these devices came on weekends, after hours, and when employees were on vacation:
There were many instances where it appeared that personal calls contributed to some additional charges noted above. Employees made calls after working hours,on weekends, and while on annual leave. For example, in July 2005, an
employee made or received 421 calls of which 37 (9 percent) of the calls were made/received while the employee was on vacation and included calls to numbers in his name, as well as various businesses. However, the office did not review these calls to determine if they were personal in nature. Although the office personnel indicated that employees are required to report any personal calls and submit applicable reimbursement, there appears to be little monitoring or enforcement of this policy.
Instead of responding to the criticism, the attorney general or whoever wrote his office's response, said:
The AGO protects and serves Missourians 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Fortunately, law enforcement communications technology has evolved at a rapid pace in recent years to help fulfill that mission. To better protect Missourians and help make employees more efficient and productive, the AGO utilizes a variety of modern handheld communication devices. Though they are not yet fully-integrated in state government, these devices are ubiquitous in society today. They are particularly important in the legal field, where they are utilized by more than 87 percent of the law firms in the nation. Top law schools are even distributing handheld devices to incoming students to download course materials, so future generations of lawyers are likely to be even more reliant on these valuable devices. While away from the office, a lawyer can communicate with others on official business in ways that were not possible before the advent of this equipment, avoiding delay and expediting business. For example, rather than experiencing downtime, a lawyer may productively review e-mails and attached documents,
manage his or her calendar, and share information with colleagues about a matter via e-mail while awaiting a court appearance in a distant courthouse. Meanwhile, vital information about a crime can be transmitted in real time, rather than waiting for an attorney to return to the office. It is imperative for the AGO to provide professional services for Missouri citizens, and that the AGO be able to contact an employee who is away from the office at a meeting or deposition when necessary. In addition, an employee may use the device after hours, on the weekend or even while on leave when it becomes important to communicate with the office. This is especially important because with today’s technology, a lawyer is never really away from the office. Accordingly, it is not fair or accurate to assume that any call or e-mail sent after 5 p.m. is a "personal call" in today’s law practice environment. Indeed, the volume of legitimate "after hours and weekend communications are likely to increase with the availability of these devices. The AGO takes pride in the fact that it is a full-service modern law firm that provides efficient round-the-clock service to all Missourians. Our employees often work long hours – routinely on
weekends and after normal business hours – to achieve this goal. Not utilizing readily-available communications technology to help make this possible would not make any sense.
While the attorney general is correct in much of what he says, wouldn't it still be wise to watch over the taxpayers' money by keeping a close eye on cell phone and Blackberry use. As the audit notes, these calls run into money and the taxpayers are the ones who are footing the bill for it.