[politico] A government report released Monday found flaws in the stimulus program that’s putting roughly $4 billion towards rolling out broadband networks across the country.
The report, released by the Department of Commerce’s Office of the Inspector General, says the agency in charge of allocating the broadband stimulus grants needs stronger oversight of the program.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the agency that has been managing the program, isn’t doing enough to monitor how grantees are spending the stimulus money, the report finds. The Inspector General also pointed out flaws with the program’s internal processes. For example, NTIA staff needs more training in using the technology systems developed by outside contractor Booz Allen Hamilton to monitor the program’s winners.
“This transfer of IT knowledge is of particular concern because NTIA is a relatively small-staffed agency charged with the execution of a major program, and it has relied heavily on the expertise and capabilities of (Booze Allen Hamilton) in virtually every aspect” of the program, the report said.
NTIA is running the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, which distributed $4 billion of the roughly $7 billion in stimulus dollars put aside for broadband expansion efforts. NTIA awarded Booze Allen Hamilton $98 million to help with administration work.
A major hurdle for the agency’s oversight is the fact that Congress did not allocate sufficient funds to manage the program after Dec. 3. Still, the report argues there are alternative ways NTIA can ensure the program is effective. Besides increasing oversight of its contract with Booz Allen Hamilton, other recommendations include completing tasks more quickly and clearly outlining responsibilities for other agencies that support NTIA’s grants program.
“Despite the potential lack of funding, NTIA’s post-award monitoring and oversight practices need to be strengthened in several ways,” the report said. “Some agreements with other Commerce agencies are unclear and have not been carefully managed” and “some aspects of award monitoring are not being completed promptly or efficiently.”
NTIA is waiting on Congress to approve $24 million of additional funding for the program so it can keep tabs on its grantees. The report acknowledged how grave the NTIA’s funding problem is, noting it could exacerbate the agency’s ability to adequately monitor the grantees.
“We share your concern that a lack of oversight funding and its impact on NTIA’s oversight of the awards substantially increases the risk of delay in grant projects and jeopardizes NTIA’s ability to guard against waste, fraud and abuse,” said Ann Eilers, the principal assistant inspector general at the Department of Commerce, in a letter sent Friday to NTIA chief Larry Strickling.
Monday’s report follows up on an earlier version released in April by the Office of the Inspector General, which the NTIA requested.
“The Inspector General plays an essential role in giving the taxpayer an independent assessment of programs such as ours,” said NTIA Chief of Staff Tom Power. “We appreciate the Inspector General's feedback contained in the report — their oversight strengthens the BTOP program.”
NTIA says it has been working with the Inspector General to resolve the issues, and the report acknowledged that NTIA has made significant improvements since April.
“NTIA is taking appropriate action to address the recommendations in the report and discusses steps that it has initiated,” Eilers said in the letter.
At an event last month, Strickling said that the Office of Management and Budget had authorized the agency to continue running the stimulus grants program on the assumption that Congress will include funding for it when lawmakers pass a budget for next year. However, Strickling expressed concern about the lack of funding and said the agency has hopes that Congress will resolve the issue before the end of the year.
In an October letter to Eilers, Strickling said the agency is working to address the concerns outlined in the report despite its limited budget.
Regarding concerns about the Booz Allen Hamilton contract, Strickling said NTIA works “hand in hand” with the consulting firm and has “closely monitored and managed each phase of the development” of the IT systems.
“NTIA’s IT staff has completed extensive acceptance training at each phase of development,” Strickling said.
The report isn’t the first to question the program’s oversight process. In August, the Government Accountability Office expressed concern about NTIA’s ability to track all of the stimulus cash it granted to award winners.
The Office of the Inspector General declined to comment.
Broadband stimulus needs more oversight
see also OIG report