Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration has embraced a proposal to install Global Positioning System devices in one of the state's largest fleets of vehicles to track usage. The plan has drawn immediate hostility from a state employee union, which calls it a "morale buster."
Officials with the Department of Children and Families, which in November requested the equipment for 750 cars, say use of the GPS devices will improve employee efficiency and resource management. Malloy's budget proposal calls it a "monitoring system."
The governor is counting on a net savings of $232,346 in fuel and overtime costs in the budget he unveiled recently.
"For some private-sector companies, GPS devices have achieved notable savings," Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba said Friday. "We believe their implementation in DCF-owned automobiles will achieve the same results for Connecticut taxpayers."
Doba could not immediately say how much the GPS technology and installation will cost.
But the union representing DCF workers calls the initiative a "morale killer" that signals to the general public management's distrust of staff to do their jobs while on the road.
"The insinuation is overtime is going to change, which means they don't believe they're doing their jobs and stealing time and driving places they're not supposed to go," Paul Lavallee said. DCF workers "find this to be a slap in the face."
GPS is a network of satellites that can pinpoint the location of a signal transmitted by the device.
Malloy is not the first governor to show an interest in the technology.
In 2008, Gov. M. Jodi Rell commissioned a study of the effectiveness of GPS devices. Rell's charge was part of an executive order aimed at reducing the overall number of state cars and hold government employees more accountable for their use.
The agency in charge of the study -- the Department of Administrative Services -- concluded the GPS devices "may" improve employee safety, client response and increase productively and efficiency.
But DAS also found other states that had instituted GPS programs were abandoning them to save money and because they did not have adequate personnel to review the data.
DAS recommended the state move forward with a modest pilot program using 15 vehicles from the departments of motor vehicles and consumer protection and the Judicial Branch. That never happened.
DCF revived the issue in a budget submission in November. The plan immediately stirred controversy because it emphasized the equipment would be used to help collect evidence of driving abuses. The one-page proposal stated the department currently cannot act on numerous complaints from the public because there is often little proof.
That is an agency-wide issue. A Hearst Connecticut Newspapers review of the 1,900 complaints lodged since 2008 found most public workers denied any wrongdoing, and the cases were subsequently dropped for lack of evidence.
Asked about using GPS as a disciplinary tool, DCF spokesman Gary Kleeblatt said the goal was to better manage agency resources.
Lavallee responded that the devices will make it harder for DCF caseworkers to do their jobs and earn clients' trust.
"When your own chain of command seems to give the impression they don't trust you, they're hard-pressed to gain the trust of the community," he said.
But Lavallee added he does not see any way the union can prevent the state agency from installing the GPS devices.
"It's their car. They can do what they want," he said.