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Government Handhelds Portables The Almighty Buck United States

The Government's Gadget Habit 159

Posted by Soulskill
from the gotta-catch-'em-all dept.
sanzibar writes "The Federal procurement database reveals millions of dollars are being spent on gadgets. Over the past 10 years, the US government has spent $117 million on BlackBerries (including service plans), almost $18 million on iOS devices, about $1 million on PS3s, over $500k on Xboxes, and somehow, $12k on Zunes."
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The Government's Gadget Habit

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  • by milbournosphere (1273186) on Friday June 17, 2011 @12:26PM (#36476956)
    but at least people are starting to realize it: http://www.sacbee.com/2011/06/09/3687455/jerry-brown-confiscates-more-than.html [sacbee.com]
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      These could have been for parts of government which work with kids. It may not have been as abusive as it initially appears. I can think of numerous way in which such purchases would be legitimate government purchases. The PS3 for instance has been used in large scale super computing projects. Not for actual gaming. The military may have some similar use. I object to the non-free software aspects so I am not thrilled with the government purchasing these devices. That being said it still may not be a waste o

      • We have already accepted (for better or worse) that the government has a social responsibility to the population besides defense and security. Everything from social security and Medicaid to public schools.

        So... you're not a Republican. :-)

      • by bberens (965711)
        A friend of mine works for a defense contractor. In the early days of Blu-Ray they bought a hand full of PS3s because it was the best, cheapest, hi-def platform available at the time for them to run their demo videos on at conferences and such. It would not surprise me in the least if those PS3s were in fact owned by the government and are on this list...
        • Conferences and their equipment go to overhead unless the contractor is specifically asked to be there and demo as part of an on-going contract. It'd be surprising if this was the case, it'd be like the air force paying Northrup to run radio advertisements about their latest jet. It's far more likely they were used for super computing or as actual game systems for the troops.
      • by peragrin (659227)

        Since the air force has a Linux PS3 superculster, it isn't surprising at all.

        The $117 million on blackberries seems like a lot until you start to add up 100,000 employees x $1,000 a year for subscription, new phones for a certain subsection of them and your already at $100 million plus.

        The Xbox's and Zunes could have ben a part of some social workers job to keep kids entertained cheaper too.

        None of that list is really surprising. If you find it surprising then you need to look around and realizing the US go

    • by alen (225700)

      i remember life before my blackberry when only PHB had it. go out for the whole saturday and check email at night and there are 5 emails from PHB with 4 of the being why someone didn't respond. sorry, don't have a blackberry like you do so no email on the road.

      now with AT&T and VZW both going to tiered data expect the peons to stop putting work email acccounts on their iphones unless the company picks up part of the tab

      • by MBGMorden (803437)

        now with AT&T and VZW both going to tiered data expect the peons to stop putting work email acccounts on their iphones unless the company picks up part of the tab

        As odd as it sounds, the last few times a Verizon rep has visited us they've been pushing the idea of users supplying their own phones and us giving them access to email if the users let us lock them down and enforce various security policies on the phones.

        Even as the person who would be doing thing it boggled my mind that ANYONE would be willing to go along with that. My work phone and my personal phone will be remaining separate (as well everyone else's for as long as I can convince them its a good idea

      • by Dutch Gun (899105)

        i remember life before my blackberry when only PHB had it. go out for the whole saturday and check email at night and there are 5 emails from PHB with 4 of the being why someone didn't respond. sorry, don't have a blackberry like you do so no email on the road.

        now with AT&T and VZW both going to tiered data expect the peons to stop putting work email acccounts on their iphones unless the company picks up part of the tab

        Smartphones don't sound like some frivolous expense. Heck, my company subsidizes half the cost of a laptop purchase. After a year of payments, it belongs to us completely, although we're expected to use it at work of course. The gaming systems are a tad suspicous though (well, except for us. We develop videogames, so they're an honest-to-god business expense). Maybe you could explain away the PS3s as being good video playback devices, but... really?

        Completely offtopic: I saw a license plate while drivi

        • by Dutch Gun (899105)

          Aaand... some other folks rightly pointed out (and the article did mention, to be fair) that these could belong to govt institutions for which it's highly appropriate to have some entertainment devices. A military recreational center, or perhaps a prison rec center for inmates who are behaving themselves.

          I'm certainly one to decry government waste, and heaven knows our government actually spends way too much now, but these examples don't seem all that egregious to me. In fact, Blackberrys (a specially enc

    • by jd (1658)

      $100 million on gadgets. How much has the GAO identified, over the same period, as having been misspent on military credit cards (such as on strip clubs), or having fallen off the books entirely and having no accountable use?

      Yes, this is wastage*, but the question is whether this is a significant amount of wastage compared to other forms. Chasing down fraud is ultimately about ROI. You invest a certain amount on cleaning this up, but you want to deal with issues that give you the greatest returns first.

      *XBo

      • by peragrin (659227)

        if you can't figure out why then you are a fucking idiot.

        $117 million on blackberries is cheap with 1.5 million employees in the federal government. That's 1/2 of 1% of the countries population.

        we have 275 cities with populations over 100,000 people. $550k on xboxes would be roughly 1,700 xboxes. or 6 per "city" for social services to use.

        If you actually breakdown the numbers into where things went the US government does waste some, but n t nearly as much as people think. They just can't wrap their hea

        • by jd (1658)

          Suggest you read the post you're replying to and then point out what in your post constitutes a reply to what, 'cos I see nothing that relates.

    • If you think of the US Military alone, with a huge amount of solderer living under the government, these people are under government care 24/7 I am not to surprised that they will have some video games systems purchased for the common areas, I wouldn't be surprised that these things are in federal prisons as well (You need to reward good behavior).

      Blackberries and iPhones I could see going to people who are oncall or managers you need to keep in touch. iPads and such as testing new technologies to see if th

  • by Osgeld (1900440) on Friday June 17, 2011 @12:27PM (#36476974)

    sure ps3's and xboxes sound silly for congress or the DOJ but it could be going to our troops, like that ps3 supercomputer ... but TFA is obviously out to state an agenda, so nothing to see here unless you want some rant by what seems like a child

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by RobinEggs (1453925)
      It could also be going literally to our troops. I've heard some military installations, especially foreign operating bases, have very nice digital entertainment options to take the stress out of being in a contested zone (and take the boredom out of being on a military base).
    • by Ephemeriis (315124) on Friday June 17, 2011 @12:38PM (#36477202)

      sure ps3's and xboxes sound silly for congress or the DOJ but it could be going to our troops, like that ps3 supercomputer ... but TFA is obviously out to state an agenda, so nothing to see here unless you want some rant by what seems like a child

      Even if they aren't going into a cluster/supercomputer, I'm not sure that I have a problem with it. Sure, maybe our congresscritters can just go home and play on their own console system... But folks who've been deployed don't really have that option. And I'm certainly not going to begrudge the soldiers who are keeping me safe the cost of a few game systems.

      • by bberens (965711)
        Agreed. Guys in the military get paid like $0.05/hr for their work. Give them all the access to PS3s and XBoxes they want.
      • by Hatta (162192)

        And I'm certainly not going to begrudge the soldiers who are keeping me safe the cost of a few game systems.

        What about the soldiers that are endangering you by perpetuating conflict because of imperialistic foreign policy? Not all military action keeps you safe. In fact most military action is less about keeping you safe, and more about securing profits for powerful and connected people or organizations. Pretending otherwise is dangerous.

        • I'm not a big fan of some of the wars and conflicts we've gotten involved in in the past. However unless you've got specific information proving otherwise about some individual, there's no reason to assume that any given soldier signed up for the military for anything but honorable, or at least morally justifiable reasons. A soldier's job is to follow orders as long as those orders aren't clearly illegal. It is the job of "wiser heads", aka the upper echelons of the military chain of command, including the
          • by Hatta (162192)

            If they go into the military knowing they will be used for imperialism, then they are at fault for that. If they go into the military ignorant of that fact, then they are at fault for ignorance. A good person will never abdicate their conscience.

            The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus,(7) etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral

          • by bjourne (1034822)

            Fuck no!

            Each and every person has the inalienable right to be free and persue their own happiness. With that right comes the unconditional responsibility for ones own actions. No one is relieved of their duty to think for themselves by following orders. Every single soldier that enrolled and decided to travel to Iraq and shot someone did it of their own free will, without anyone forcing them to, and is fully responsible for the crimes they committed, and for taking part in a completely unjust war. There is

    • by sg3000 (87992)
      Various government labs have the need for large banks of computing nodes for supercomputing purposes, so it wouldn't surprise me if the large number of PS3s were being used for that. Another proof point: there's a wide discrepancy in the xbox numbers. If they were being used as game machines, you'd think the xbox numbers would be comparable (or even higher). When the PS3 was introduced, it at the time offered a great price to performance ratio, so research labs in different countries bought them for that p
    • by maxume (22995)

      Right. For comparison, it would be interesting to see how much the government is spending on peanuts.

    • I'm reminded of when Bobby Jindal made fun of "Volcano research" [cnn.com] and then a few weeks later a volcano erupted [nola.com].

      Nearly any spending can be made to sound wasteful when you gloss over important details. The government spent $47k on nintendo Wiis? I don't know what that's about but here's two wild guesses:

      1. The government funds some services for children, like orphanages, hospitals, day cares, holding facilities, and schools, and someone thought that spending $200 on a wii to pacify the kids was a goo
      • by magarity (164372)

        2. A massive conspiracy in which congressmen and women and their staff do nothing but play videogames

        I wish; then they wouldn't have time to write up multi-thousand page laws to shove on us.

        • by Kalriath (849904)

          I also wish your congresspeople and their staff were busy all day playing video games, then they wouldn't have time to write up multi-thousand page laws to shove on us, a completely different country.

          Say, with your government writing our laws, does this mean I get to vote for your congress now?

    • by jawahar (541989)

      I think doing a proper https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Social_audit [wikimedia.org] should have prevented it.

  • kudos (Score:5, Interesting)

    by yagu (721525) * <[moc.liamg] [ta] [ugayay]> on Friday June 17, 2011 @12:28PM (#36476994) Journal
    If you compare that money against the total government expenditures, I'd guess percentage-wise they're spending far less on gadgets from their budget than the average consumer. Maybe we should be congratulating them.

    Of course, there may be buried beneath all the other expenditures many gadgets that don't show up as itemized and measurable.

    • Re:kudos (Score:4, Informative)

      by MozeeToby (1163751) on Friday June 17, 2011 @12:58PM (#36477532)

      I can't imagine a news item being less news worthy... there are 2.5 million full time federal employees. That means that the federal government spends on average $4.70 dollars per year, per employee on phones (including for service). Somehow that doesn't seem at all unreasonable to me. I'd presume iOS devices are almost exclusively phones (~1 per 50 employees), perhaps with some company use tablets thrown in as well. As for the rest: PS3s are used all over the place to make cheap super computers, and I'd guess xBoxes and Zunes would be either for the troops or for performance giveaways. Yes, lets all be upset that they spent half a penny per employee on Zunes.

      Also, to really put this in perspective. At the height of the Iraq war, a single day's operations cost more than 5.5x the 10 year 'gadget budget'. 4.5 hours of operations in Iraq, 10 years of gadgets for every federal employee.

    • To me, a gadget implies something that is a fun toy, but not really needed. I would call my Kindle a gadget, but not my stove, for example. My Kindle is a fun toy but my stove is fairly necessary.

      Well guess what? To do their job effectively, many government workers need a good mobile communication device. They need something they can get calls and messages on, and they need something with FIPS compliant encryption since the law requires that. Hey, turns out the Blackberry fits the bill! What a coincidence.

      W

      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        These are government employees being paid by my tax dollars. Why are they leaving their desks? Get back to work you slackers!!

    • by Rolgar (556636)

      Government budgets include salaries. Average consumers don't have salaries as a line item in their budget.

      • by KhabaLox (1906148)

        The analogue to a government's or company's payroll for a consumer would be their budget for food and housing.

      • by 2short (466733)

        I'm not sure why that's relevant in the first place, but salaries of all government workers is a tiny fraction of the budget in any case.

  • Thats all? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kelarius (947816) on Friday June 17, 2011 @12:28PM (#36477002)
    Over 10 years that really isn't a whole lot, especially when you're talking about the government. I think many corporations end up spending more on the BB phones/plans ALONE than the gov spent on all of that, and considering that many of those PS3s/xboxes/zunes/iOS devices probably went to the military to entertain deployed troops (or in iOS case, to be used functionally in the field) I don't really consider those bad investments.
    • Seriously - it sounds more like the author is trying to drum up outrage/page hits/ad revenue rather than actually examining the situation. Just enough about the vets and the USAF supercomputer to seem 'fair and balanced', countered with nothing but bile.

    • by afidel (530433)
      Yeah, my little 1,000 employee company has probably spent $4M on Blackberries, ipad's, and cell service over the last 10 years (our AT&T bill alone is ~$25k/month and they only have ~80% of our business). The government has a hell of a lot more than 25k employees so if anything the numbers seem rather small to me.
    • Re:Thats all? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Rob the Bold (788862) on Friday June 17, 2011 @01:13PM (#36477760)

      Over 10 years that really isn't a whole lot, especially when you're talking about the government. I think many corporations end up spending more on the BB phones/plans ALONE than the gov spent on all of that, and considering that many of those PS3s/xboxes/zunes/iOS devices probably went to the military to entertain deployed troops (or in iOS case, to be used functionally in the field) I don't really consider those bad investments.

      Let's just do that math. Looks like federal spending over that time period was a little under $30 Trillion (give or take 3 or 4 trillion). So Blackberry expenditures would be about 4 millionths of total federal spending. Let's see, what do I spend about 4 millionths of my money on? If I somehow spend $100,000 annually, that's 40 cents a year. That doesn't even get me a payphone call -- provided I could find one.

      I guess I should put that in the same frame as the summary: $4 over ten years. That's a few orders of magnitude lower than my "gadget" spending.

  • by eln (21727)
    Lots of government workers need cell phones for their jobs. As with any other job, if it's required for the job, the employer should pay for it. Now, the government really ought to do something like what my employer does: they'll provide a model good enough for your basic needs for free, but if you want a fancy smart phone, you pay for the actual hardware out of your own pocket. They still pay for the plan, though.

    So, I can totally understand why government is paying for (at least part of) this. The
    • There's no excuse for buying a Zune, though.

      That's true for everyone, not just the government.

      • Actually, the Zunes had a governmental use—they were smuggled to Taliban militants in Afghanistan. I mean, can you think of a better way to sap their will to live?

  • by Tolkien (664315)
    PS3s I understand because of the Condor cluster. Xboxes? Wtf?
    • by Osgeld (1900440)

      troops sitting out in bum fuck nowhere middle east. what? do you expect them to play cards and read Archie comics 100% of their down time?

      • by Nadaka (224565)

        Also consider that a lot of fun activities like drinking and getting laid are highly illegal in bum fuck nowhere middle east.

    • by Dyinobal (1427207)
      US troops do like to play video games. Or should of invested in some board games for them?
    • by timeOday (582209)
      Did you know there is a version of the America's Army Game for the XBox? It's no secret. I've heard it criticized as devious, but not ineffective. So, almost anything can be a useful tool in the right application.
  • So? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bmo (77928) on Friday June 17, 2011 @12:29PM (#36477028)

    Those figures are over 10 years?

    That's not even real money.

    Get back to me when we're not spending billions on wars each month that we're losing in the long run.

    Get back to me when there is an accounting for the 6 - some odd billion in *cash* we shipped off to Iraq (or was it Afghanistan? Who cares, same thing) that simply disappeared down the rat hole through simple theft.

    --
    BMO

  • Microsoft is a not-insignificant sponsor of the republocrat party, and must be rewarded as such.
    • by langelgjm (860756) on Friday June 17, 2011 @12:36PM (#36477162) Journal

      Actually the Zunes are backhanded gifts for our diplomats to hand out when they want to insult another country's leaders. Kind of like buying someone a really ugly sweater.

    • I'm pretty sure Microsoft has better things to do than worry about $12k worth of Zunes. This is a company with tens of billions in revenue.
    • Oh yes, I can just see all the backroom wheeling and dealing that went on in order to convince the government to buy enough Zunes over a 10 year period to pay for one fifth of a summer intern's pay.
    • If you think that spending $1200 per year on Zunes is enough to make any noticeable change in either MS's or the federal government's finances you're insane. All that this takes is one manager who wants to give a bonus for good performance that isn't cash.

      [sarcasm]5 Zunes per year? No wonder our country is going broke![/sarcasm]

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Their reward is not being prosecuted for abuse of monopoly anymore. Back in the 90s Microsoft donated almost nothing to political campaigns. Then they were convicted for abusing their monopoly. Since then they have become major contributors to both parties. They haven't been bothered by the DOJ since. Hmmm.

  • So in other words the government is providing phones to government workers that probably need them and made a PS3 supercomputer Not too mention that 136 million over 10 years is in the margin of error for larger projects. TFA is retarded.
  • During the past 10 years, the USG has spent $5 trillion on war! This includes a lot of overpriced tools to kill people. Who cares if somebody got a Zune?

    (And we still have to overpay for oil.)

  • A $500,000 on gaming consoles is a small price to pay to show our appreciation to our troops.
  • That's $11.7 million per year. Assume $50 per month per Blackberry, that's about 20,000 Blackberries. There are something like 2 million [nextgov.com] federal workers (executive branch only, not including postal workers). Seems like more than 1% of federal employees would be well served with a smart phone.

    • by vux984 (928602)

      Assume $50 per month per Blackberry

      Odds are the government gets better rates than that.

      • by KhabaLox (1906148)

        Do you really think so? I'd assume they'd get somewhat better rates than the private sector, but I know we spend somewhere between $$60 and $80 per month for our Blackberries (we only have about 15). It's somewhat difficult to pin down, because we have a corporate minute pool that is shared with 50+ feature phones as well.

        But even if they're only paying $25 per month for phone and data and got the handsets for free, that still only supplies less than 2% of federal employees.

  • by blair1q (305137) on Friday June 17, 2011 @12:34PM (#36477122) Journal

    Did they spend anything on typewriters?

    How about filing cabinets?

    Any word on semaphore flags?

    Pretty sure this is a shift in paradigm in the tools needed to perform the task, not a shopping spree on cool toys.

    • by thebra (707939)

      Did they spend anything on typewriters?

      How about filing cabinets?

      Any word on semaphore flags?

      Pretty sure this is a shift in paradigm in the tools needed to perform the task, not a shopping spree on cool toys.

      I fail to see the relationship. What tasks are being performed by the thousands of game consoles or MP3 players that have replaced file cabinets and typewriters?

      • Let's just look at the xbox. Pretend for a second that an xbox costs $250. That means that the US government, over 10 years has bought a whopping 2000 xboxes. The ENTIRE government. Not that much really. I can think of lots of reasons why they might buy them

        - gift to a diplomat
        - bribes for information
        - for use by troops overseas as a moral booster
        - a cheap way to set-up a media box for presentations
        - etc

        I mean, seriously, anyone who is really concerned with why the government bought a measly 2000 xboxe

      • by GodInHell (258915)

        I fail to see the relationship. What tasks are being performed by the thousands of game consoles or MP3 players that have replaced file cabinets and typewriters?

        Keeping bored troops from killing themselves binge drinking and whoring on bases the world over. Entertaining wounded vets in the VA. Being used as cheap hardware for parallel computing systems that are far cheaper than buying a custom super-computer.

        Those are some of the uses. $117M in a several trillion dollar budget is shockingly low. Cudous to gov't IT staff for keeping the overhead down.

        -GiH

        • by blair1q (305137)

          Yup. And, the consoles have probably replaced a bunch of Asteroids and Ms. Pac-Man machines. The MP3 players? Dirt-cheap jukeboxes. Also useful for transmitting information.

          People need to start questioning missiles that cost $1M a copy, not handhelds that cost $1M a war.

  • by Tuan121 (1715852)

    Those numbers are completely out of context, no idea if that's good or bad. Nice job, summary.

  • Whoa whoa whoa... the Zune sold $12k worth of units!?

  • I'm seeing a banner ad on the top of the page encouraging me to blame Obama for high gas prices. Certainly, that is only coincidental, right?
  • We always wondered who the idiots were that bought them.
    Now we know, and knowing is half the battle.
  • I unfortunately know why Government agencies don't allow workers to buy their own cell phone for a small reimbursement. Salary, taxes and discovery.

    While lots of workers need cell phones, lots don't. so there is a danger of it becoming the "government cell phone benefit". Further it ends up messing up taxes and contract/salary agreements, is it an additional benefit or not?

    Worse yet is discovery. If you transact public business on private devices, does discovery apply? Are you breaking laws by texting i

  • After all, Obama has a Zune. [gizmodo.com] Who in the US government is subject to more obsequious underlings?
  • So they spent a bit more than $100 over ten years on gadgets. $1.5M of which on game consoles. Of course you do remember that the military was using game consoles in super-computer projects. But even if it wasn't for that, what's wrong with having an equipped break room? Aside from the usual DoD waste, I'd be more interested in (and probably troubled by) how much of our tax dollars are being spent on the proverbial "hookers and blow."
    • by couchslug (175151)

      "I'd be more interested in (and probably troubled by) how much of our tax dollars are being spent on the proverbial "hookers and blow."

      Put THOSE in the breakroom and enlistments will soar!

  • ... which doesn't mean that it is.

    xboxes for children's homes, hospitals, troops would be OK. For luxury cars and planes, less so (but luxury cars and planes feel less OK to me as a rule). For someone's home or even worse office, not OK.

    Purchases are a bit like laws and regulations: not inherently good or bad, all depends on what they are for, and whether they succeed.

  • So if an employee takes a $20/m payroll deduction and is given a Blackberry + contract which costs $25/m (regular price for Joe Consumer say $40/m), is that being counted?

    Some employers (at least here in UK) every year offer employees a list of benefits. Maybe there's a per-year limit, or maybe there's a payroll deduction. Quite often the employer's bulk purchasing power attracts a large discount, quite often the activity has some employer benefit (gym membership), there can be some tax benefits and there c

  • It's nothing compared to the cost of A/C in tents in Afghanistan, $20 BILLION !!!!!!!! more than the whole NASA budget :-(((

    http://cryptogon.com/?p=16709 [cryptogon.com]
  • Admittedly, I didn't read the article. But, I don't like the word "gadget." It implies some technophiliac lust for the latest doo-dad, or the CFO who has to have a pimped out, high-end desktop "just because."

  • by NoSig (1919688)
    I'm outraged that government employees are being treated this poorly which is bound to decrease their efficiency and is thus directly costing me money. We need many more xboxes and other entertainment devices in the government break rooms. That is the story, right? I really hope it's not about how people working for the government cannot be allowed 5 cents per employee on xboxes. That's a level of expense of one candy bar per 20 employees over 10 years!
  • A huge number of Blackberries were purchased shortly after 9/11, because when the communications terminals in the towers were destroyed, text messages were the only things getting through the system.

    The Blackberry was still pretty new back then, but pagers were in wide use, and those were the only things working. The government took notice, and there was a HUGE push to give everyone either pagers or similar devices.

    Once Blackberry came along, Uncle Sam jumped on them lickety-split, because it represented a

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