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Audit urges strategy on access to electronics

Hundreds of laptops, tablets, smartphones and wireless cards owned by the City of Buffalo have been doled out by various departments with no central accountability, an audit by the City Comptroller's Office has found.

"In general, we found that there is no overall strategy as it relates to mobile electronic and communication devices," Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder wrote this week in a memo to the Common Council about the audit.

The idea for the city's review came from a Buffalo News story in the spring of 2009 about how two city economic-development agencies used anti-poverty funds to pay for Blackberry devices and cellphones for some of its employees, said City Auditor Darryl McPherson.

According to McPherson's report, the city should centralize the oversight of its portable electronic devices used by employees because, aside from the fire and police departments, "the rest of the city lacks cohesion."

At present, some aspects of management lie with the Division of Telecommunications, Utilities and Franchises, a part of the Department of Public Works, while others are with Management and Information Systems.

The Comptroller's Office recommends Mayor Byron W. Brown and the Council change the City Charter and put the city's chief information officer in charge of keeping tabs on electronic devices.

"[T]here needs to be a clear line of authority where the evolving realm of technology is concerned," the audit states.

Of 153 laptops and tablets handed out in city departments outside of police and fire, 68 (45 percent) could not be accounted for in the review.

The audit calls for the city to look at cutting back the number of service providers it uses for wireless services, as well as updating its telecommunications policy outlining the responsibilities of city deparments.

According to the audit:

*A total of 507 laptops were in the city's inventory last year.

*The city had 528 wireless devices as of last August: 278 wireless cards, 187 cellphones, 38 smartphones and 25 pagers.

*From July 2009 to November 2011, the city paid $565,000 for wireless services.

Had the city been looking at bundling its wireless service purchases, it could have saved money, McPherson said.

The audit also found a laptop was loaned to an unnamed "top-ranking employee" who did not return it when that person left city government.

After being sent a certified letter, the ex-employee returned the computer, which no longer worked, McPherson said.

The audit also revealed that the city bought tablets in July 2010 for use by building inspectors, but those devices are still in their boxes. Inspectors won't be able to use the devices in the field until the machines are configured with appropriate software. That is supposed to happen by this summer, McPherson said.

The city is currently searching for a new chief information officer, since the retirement of Management and Information Systems Director Raj Mehta in December. Peter Barone, a supervisor, was named acting CIO in January.

The job pays an annual salary of $106,900.

A spokesman for Brown did not respond to a request for comment.