Commerce Department Inspector General Scores BTOP

Broadband Stimulus, FCC April 14th, 2010

, Reporter,

WASHINGTON, April 14, 2010 – After a post-grant review found numerous inefficiencies and unforeseen problems in the first round of Broadband Technology Opportunity Program grants caused by the sheer size of the program, Commerce Department Inspector General demanded that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration create a plan to improve the efficiency and fairness of both the application process and overall management of BTOP.

The plan must be submitted within the next two months, according to a letter accompanying the IG’s report on the program dated April 8.

BTOP is the largest grant program NTIA has ever managed, the report found. While NTIA had previously managed grant programs, the sheer size of BTOP dwarfed all such efforts.

Additionally, BTOP also involves coordination and awards to both for-profit and non-profit entities as well as state, local and tribal governments – as well as co-coordination with the Federal Communications Commission.

But while NTIA managed to reach its deadlines for awarding grants, it has not yet been able to complete a comprehensive analysis of BTOP’s efficiency during the pre-award process due to the need to get the program quickly up to speed.

The lack of specialized personnel to implement BTOP also hampered NTIA’s efficiency, said the OIG report. And while most positions in the BTOP program office have been filled – an improvement from November, 2009 when the office lacked 20 percent of needed personnel – those staffing levels will most likely be insufficient to process the next rounds of grant applications, the IG said.

NTIA has failed to adequately document the activities of the BTOP program, the report found. Specifically, NTIA “has not documented its policies and procedures establishing clear areas of authority and responsibility or detailing appropriate lines of reporting and resolving issues that arise during the due-diligence process,” the IG said.

This problem was exacerbated when BTOP staff had questions related to the grant approval process and did not know who was properly trained or had the authority to answer the query, the report noted. And delegation of authority when a member of the group’s senior staff had to recuse themselves from the pre-approval process. While many of these problems were fixed by January, 2010, the report found that on the whole, NTIA “has gone more than a year into the program without fully documented procedures.”

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