WASHINGTON, August 9, 2010 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Rural Utilities Service are doing a pretty good job awarding broadband stimulus funding, although both agencies face risks as the Sept. 30 deadline nears for doling out the money.
The Government Accountability Office says in a new report (pdf) that even though the NTIA and RUS lack detailed data on broadband availability throughout the country and must award twice the amount of money in a second round of funding in a shorter amount of time, the agencies are working hard to meet their obligations.
To meet the Recovery Act’s Sept. 30 deadline, NTIA and RUS must award about $4.8 billion, and as the deadline looms, “the agencies may face increased pressure to approve awards,” according to the GAO. Additionally, it is difficult for the agencies “to determine whether a proposed service area is unserved or underserved” because of the lack of granular data.
To address the challenges, the GAO says the agencies have streamlined their application review processes by eliminating joint reviews and reducing the number of steps in the due diligence process. Additionally, NTIA began using U.S. Census tract data to verify the presence of service.
It’s also no small chore for the agencies to ensure that the grant recipients construct the infrastructure projects in the entire project area, “not simply the area where it may be the most profitable for the company to provide service,” says the GAO in “Recovery Act: Further Opportunities Exist to Strengthen Oversight of Broadband Stimulus Programs.”
The agencies also face the risk of having insufficient resources to actively monitor Recovery Act funded broadband projects.
The GAO suggests that the agencies should plan for a lack of resources for program oversight after Sept. 30 and recommends that the secretaries of the Agriculture and Commerce departments address these issues.