Telecommunications:

Assessment of the Explanation That Immigration and Customs Enforcement Provided for Its Subsequent Transfer from the Spectrum Relocation Fund

GAO-08-846R: Published: Sep 9, 2008. Publicly Released: Sep 9, 2008.

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Congress has taken a number of steps to facilitate the deployment of innovative, new commercial wireless services to consumers, including authorizing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to assign licenses through auctions and requiring more spectrum to be transferred from federal government use to commercial use. In addition, in 2004, Congress passed the Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act (CSEA), which established a Spectrum Relocation Fund (the Fund) to cover the costs incurred by federal entities within certain spectrum bands as they relocate to new frequency assignments or transition to alternative technologies. The Fund is administered by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in consultation with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the Department of Commerce. In September 2006, FCC concluded an auction of licenses for Advanced Wireless Services on radio spectrum in the 1710 megahertz (MHz) to 1755 MHz band that is currently used by federal agencies. The auction raised almost $6.9 billion in net winning bids from the sale of these frequencies, which was deposited into the Fund to be available to the federal entities for their eligible relocation expenses. Any auction proceeds remaining in the Fund after payment of relocation costs are to revert to the General Fund of the U.S. Treasury not later than 8 years after the date of their deposit.

Our assessment of the explanation that ICE provided is that the need for a substantial subsequent transfer was caused by DHS and ICE failing to identify a significant number of relocation expenses in the original transfer request, including costs associated with additional equipment, offices, and systems, and with a fifth frequency assignment. DHS submitted and OMB, in consultation with NTIA, reviewed and approved this original transfer request. The CSEA provided some guidance to agencies concerning the categories of expenses that are eligible for relocation monies from the Fund. In addition, NTIA provided guidance to agencies about how to submit information for their initial estimates of their relocation costs, including how to break out expenses and how to format their submissions. OMB also provided some guidance to the federal entities to use in developing their original requests for transfers from the Fund. However, in submitting both its initial estimate to NTIA and its original transfer request to OMB, ICE did not detail its estimated costs by equipment, location, system, or frequency--as suggested by NTIA's guidance--and did not include costs for one of its frequency assignments. Instead, ICE provided a lump sum estimate of $3,559,281 for its spectrum relocation costs. ICE staff told us that the initial estimate had not been well coordinated among ICE offices and was simply a poorly crafted estimate. According to OMB staff, ICE's initial estimate and original transfer request were based on an inadequate inventory of deployed systems. OMB and NTIA accepted ICE's estimate and did not require ICE to provide the details suggested in the CSEA or requested in NTIA's guidance in either its original or subsequent transfer request. As a result, OMB and NTIA had limited assurance that DHS or ICE had conducted a thorough assessment of ICE's spectrum relocation needs. With respect to subsequent requests for transfer, OMB staff stated that they work with agencies on what information is needed to support a request. However, OMB has not established any written guidance or criteria for agencies in submitting subsequent requests for transfer, which could result in limited assurance going forward that the subsequent requests reflect thorough and properly vetted estimates.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OMB developed guidance applicable to all agencies receiving funds from the Spectrum Relocation Fund and transmitted that guidance via a memorandum sent to the heads of all the relevant executive departments and agencies on October 14, 2008. The memorandum was also posted to OMB's website. Appended to the memorandum are detailed criteria and guidance for agencies to meet when making a subsequent request for transfer from the Spectrum Relocation Fund. The criteria include specific information requirements, such as funding needs, timelines, description of systems, cost-benefit analysis, and an assessment of the thoroughness of the subsequent request, including the confidence the agency has in its accuracy. Also included are two attachments to the memo: a template for requesting a subsequent transfer and a template for providing additional detailed information.

    Recommendation: Because it is important that federal agencies present accurate estimates when determining their spectrum relocation needs so that additional subsequent transfer requests--and, thus, further depletion of the Spectrum Relocation Fund--can be avoided, the Director of OMB should, in consultation with NTIA, establish written criteria for agencies to follow when submitting supplemental requests for spectrum relocation funding, communicate these criteria to each of the affected federal entities, and require that these criteria be followed before OMB approves subsequent requests. These criteria should be designed to better assure OMB (and NTIA in its consultative role) that the requesting agency has conducted a thorough assessment of its spectrum relocation needs, and that the estimate has been properly vetted throughout the agency or department involved. For example, these criteria could include, but not be limited to, requiring agencies to provide replacement costs by equipment, location, system, or frequency and requiring agencies to break out expenses into standard categories. Until such criteria can be developed, OMB might consider using, as an interim requirement, the guidance set forth in NTIA's February 2005 letter to the agencies, including NTIA's template and executive summary.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

 

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