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Applicants For Stimulus Funds Should Expect A Long Wait; ACORN Deemed Ineligible

in NTIA/Recovery Act by

WASHINGTON, November 3, 2009 – Between the government’s slowness in announcing recipients of its broadband stimulus grants and the process of dolling out the funds once the awards have been made, applicants can expect a long wait ahead of them.

The Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration, one of the government agencies Congress charged in January with distributing $7.2 billion to expand broadband deployment and adoption, will not announce who will receive the first broadband stimulus grants until at least mid-December, according to an NTIA spokeswoman. The agency then plans to announce more awardees on a rolling basis, she added.

The only group that knows for certain that it won’t be getting funds is the controversial ACORN Institute, which describes itself as a group that uses “research and training to address the problems in low-income communities identified through years of community organizing.”

Its applications have been deemed "ineligible for funding” by the NTIA. See the listing on NTIA’s web site.

The ACORN Institutes de-funding is the result of guidance issued by the Office of Management and Budget to executive branch agencies cutting off funding to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries, or allied organizations.

“To the extent your agency already has determined that funds should be obligated or awarded to ACORN or its affiliates but has not yet entered into any agreement to provide such funds to ACORN or any of its affiliates, your agency should not provide such funds, or enter into any such agreements to do so,” the document reads.

The move by OMB was a result of Congressional action to block funding to the group after videos emerged that appeared to show ACORN workers advising illegal activities, according to news reports. A spokesperson from ACORN did not provide any on the record comment by deadline. The videos were not the first concern related to the group's activities that has emerged over the past few years.

With respect to other organizations, once a recipient of the stimulus funding is named, the agency plans to complete all the required paperwork and deliver the funds within 60 days of the announcement, according to a July notice (PDF) in the Federal Register.

The agency originally intended to start announcing grant recipients in November, but Larry Strickling, head of the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration, told lawmakers during an oversight hearing on October 27 that the program has been falling behind.

“Given the large number of complex applications and the very voluminous amount of information that we need to review, we have decided to expand our review period,” Strickling said.

“And we are now targeting our first grant awards for mid-December, about a month later than we originally projected last July when we announced the first round of funding. Similarly, we will not conclude the first round of funding at the end of this year as we had originally hoped,” Strickling continued.

“But, we expect to do so in February of next year. I’m confident that by expanding our first round review period we will maximize the significant and lasting improvements in America’s technological innovation and economic health promised by our program,” he added.

During the hearing, many lawmakers cited the challenges that NTIA and the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service have faced in evaluating applications and awarding funding.

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Winter covered technology policy issues for five-and-a-half years as a reporter for the National Journal Group. She has worked for USA Today, the Washington Times, the Magazine Group, the State Department’s International Visitor’s Program, and the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. She also taught English at a university in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

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