At a couple sites I worked at over the years, I was in charge of laptops, cell phones, and mobile data cards. This was its own level of hell, because more often than not, the users viewed these things as little more than status symbols, and only wanted them for that reason, or so they wouldn’t have to pay for their own stuff, because they figured “Hey, it’s the government, they got lots of money.”
Whenever I’d get a ticket requesting one of these items, it was standard procedure to have them fill out paperwork justifying why they needed the device in question, as well as having it signed by their boss, their department chief and the Director’s Office. About half the time, they completed this paperwork with such speed, it would give me whiplash. The other half of the time, despite four emails, two weeks, and no responses back, they’d come up to my office screaming at me and demanding to know why their request was denied when I never got their paperwork. And of course, these people would claim ignorance and say they didn’t know they needed to fill out any paperwork… that or they were above filling it out and needed the equipment immediately for their jobs.
In the case of laptops especially, most cases involved people only using the laptop once, perhaps twice, and then squirreling the laptop away for months on end, seeing the laptop as a status symbol. When they fired the laptop back up after entombing it for so long, they were surprised to discover the encryption I was required to install on it had locked the laptop up for lack of use. Reason being, the laptop had a 90-day timer, and the timer would reset every time the laptop would log into the network, which was a little tough if they kept it turned off and in a drawer somewhere. Then, in a panic, they’d come up to me and demand I override the lockout, claiming they needed it for their jobs. Pretty quickly, I got wise to this, and the first thing I always did when I heard their sob story was to go into the event logs of the laptop. Sure enough, there were gaps on the logs that often extended for months at a stretch. My personal record was a 19-month gap, and the user was adamant they used the laptop every single day, when the event log registered everything, even something as menial as turning it on. And considering the perpetual shortage of laptops we had, I frequently brought this up to my boss whenever users claimed that they used it every day, and my boss would back my play on it & refuse to give them the laptop back. Trouble is, the user would invariably go over my boss’ head to our CIO or to the director, who was only too happy to side with the users, ordering me to give it back to them after updating it, only for the user to (again) squirrel the laptop away for months on end.
The opposite was also true. I had posted an earlier story about this, but other people tried to use the laptops as their own personal machines, and in several cases, the users would beg me to allow them to have full administrative rights to the laptop, or to load unauthorized software on them, claiming it was critical to their job performance, which made me laugh because in one case, I wondered how a children’s program to teach a 5-year old how to spell was critical to a doctor’s job. I would always refuse, and even the CIO had a hard time justifying such a thing, since if it was discovered that he authorized someone who wasn’t in IT to do as they pleased to a secured and encrypted device, it was going to be their ass on the chopping block.
In both cases, I had to sit there and explain to them, even showing them, that the paperwork they, their boss, and the Director’s Office signed for them to have the laptop stated in black and white that they were required to bring the laptop in at lease once every 90 days for check-in and updates, and that they were only allowed to use the equipment for official purposes related to their jobs. They claimed ignorance, saying they didn’t know they had to do this, when my guess is, they were in such a rush to get their new shiny toy they simply didn’t read that part, even after I had told them they needed to bring it in every 90 days.
And as bad as laptops were, cell phones and Blackberries were even worse. Again, users viewed these things as status symbols, trying to get them, even if their jobs didn’t require one at all. One particularly memorable case involved the lead telephone operator. She had requested and was approved for a Blackberry, and then went on a 90-day disability. The problem was, even before she went on disability, she was using he phone at all hours of the day and night, calling and texting people that had no affiliation at all with work, and racking up huge charges as a result, on account of the plans we ordered not having texting and only 500 minutes a month. This only increased when she went on disability, to such a degree that her monthly bills routinely exceeded $1500 a month. When she returned from disability, I had sent her several emails explaining her usage, with copies of the bills for her line, and asking to show me which phone numbers and texts were work related. I never got a response back, so finally, I called the carrier, and ordered her phone number be suspended immediately. Sure enough, within 15 minutes of doing that, she came up to our office, demanding to know why her Blackberry suddenly couldn’t make calls any more. I explained to her, with my boss in the office, that I wanted an explanation as to why her cell phone bill was so massive, and why she was making calls and texting people outside of her working hours. She claimed she was talking to coworkers, but I had already checked, and only a small fraction of the calls were to her fellow operators. My boss then said that until she paid the cell phone balance, in full, she wouldn’t have her Blackberry reactivated. All of a sudden, her mood changed, and now that she was forced with either paying a $7,500 cell phone bill before being able to use it again, she changed her tune, gave up the Blackberry on the spot, and said she would buy a personal cell phone of her own.
A similar issue occurred with another employee, who was part of the community outreach program at our site. My coworker, who also worked on laptops and cell phones, discovered that this guy’s cell phone bills routinely exceeded $2,500 a month, and like with the lead operator, the calls and texts came in at all hours of the night. My coworker emailed him, asking him for a reason his cell phone bill was so high, and got no response… The second month, same thing. Finally after a third month and a third email with no word from him, we called the carrier and cut off his cell phone. Like clockwork, he stormed up to our office within 15 minutes of the cutoff, demanding to know why his cell phone was cut off. We told him we had been trying for three months to get a hold of him with no success, so per policy, we cut off his cell phone access for suspected abuse of the service. He got belligerent, claiming he was in outreach, and of course his cell phone was in use constantly, he was always out in the community, to which my coworker had countered that we knew of schedule for such outreach, since it was in the email blasts that he himself had sent out, but the dates and times of the barrage of calls and texts he was getting didn’t even come close to matching up, as well as bringing out the paperwork he signed, agreeing to only use the cell phone for official work purposes. At that point, he physically threatened my coworker, stating that if he didn’t reactivate the Blackberry immediately, he was going to beat us senseless. My boss just happened to be down the hall, hearing the commotion, and telling the guy to leave the office immediately, and because he made a threat of assault, this was going to become an official investigation. He had the in-house police escort him out, and was ordered to not come back up to our department, lest it be escorted by at least two police officers. In addition, my boss called the Inspector General’s office, letting them know what happened, forwarding all my emails I had sent to the guy, along with the monthly cell phone bills, which we had requested be broken down to include numbers, times, call lengths, the works.
After the IG completed their investigation, they ordered the guy to be demoted, dropped down a full pay grade, put into another position, and ordered him to pay back the last six months of the cell phone service he used, which totaled over $17,000, or else face criminal charges including committing fraud, waste and abuse against the federal government, threatening assault on a government employee, among other charges.