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Highlights

Access to affordable broadband service is seen as vital to economic growth and improved quality of life. To extend broadband access and adoption, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) provided $7.2 billion to the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service (RUS) for grants or loans to a variety of program applicants. The agencies are awarding funds in two rounds and must obligate all funds by September 30, 2010. This report addresses the results of the first broadband stimulus funding round, the extent to which NTIA's and RUS's application reviews substantiated application information, the challenges facing NTIA and RUS in awarding the remaining funds, and actions taken to oversee grant and loan recipients. GAO analyzed program documentation, reviewed a judgmentally-selected sample of applications from first round award recipients, and interviewed agency officials and industry stakeholders.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Agriculture To ensure effective monitoring and oversight of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) and Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) programs, the Secretary of Agriculture should incorporate into risk-based monitoring plans, steps to address the variability in funding levels for postaward oversight beyond September 30, 2010.
Closed - Implemented
In the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act), Congress authorized the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service (RUS) to establish the Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) to make loans and award grants and loan/grant combinations for broadband infrastructure projects primarily in rural areas; the Recovery Act appropriated $2.5 billion for RUS. We found that RUS faces the risk of having insufficient staff and resources to actively monitor BIP-funded projects after September 30, 2010. In particular, some projects are not expected to be complete until 2013. However, the Recovery Act does not provide budget authority or funding for the administration and oversight of BIP-funded projects beyond September 30, 2010. Because of this, we reported that it is critical that the oversight plans that RUS is developing recognize the challenges that could arise from a possible lack of resources for program oversight after September 30, 2010. Therefore, to ensure effective monitoring and oversight of the BIP programs, we recommended that the Secretary of Agriculture incorporate into the agency's risk-based monitoring plans, steps to address the variability in funding levels for postaward oversight beyond September 30, 2010. Subsequent to our report, RUS extended its contract with ICF International to provide BIP program support through 2013. According to RUS, the agency fully funded the contract extension using Recovery Act funds and no additional appropriations are required to continue the contract through fiscal year 2013. As we noted, planning for these various contingencies can help the agencies mitigate the effect that limited resource levels may have on postaward oversight.
Department of Commerce To ensure effective monitoring and oversight of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) and Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) programs, the Secretary of Commerce should incorporate into risk-based monitoring plans, steps to address the variability in funding levels for postaward oversight beyond September 30, 2010.
Closed - Implemented
In the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act), Congress authorized the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to create the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) to manage competitive grants to a variety of entities for broadband infrastructure, public computer centers, and innovative projects to stimulate demand for, and adoption of, broadband; the Recovery Act provided $4.7 billion for NTIA. We found that NTIA faced the risk of having insufficient staff and resources to actively monitor BTOP-funded projects after September 30, 2010. In particular, some projects are not expected to be complete until 2013. However, the Recovery Act did not provide budget authority or funding for the administration and oversight of BTOP-funded projects beyond September 30, 2010. Because of this, we reported that it is critical that the oversight plans that NTIA is developing recognize the challenges that could arise from a possible lack of resources for program oversight after September 30, 2010. Therefore, to ensure effective monitoring and oversight of the BTOP programs, we recommended that the Secretary of Commerce incorporate into the agency's risk-based monitoring plans, steps to address the variability in funding levels for postaward oversight beyond September 30, 2010. Subsequent to our report, NTIA issued the FY11 BTOP Monitoring and Assessment Plan. This plan focused on monitoring activities that reflect NTIA's anticipated resources and budget availability. In particular, the plan included three levels of monitoring, with increased oversight (e.g., more site visits) for projects with higher levels of risk exposure. As we noted, planning for these various contingencies can help the agencies mitigate the effect that limited resource levels may have on postaward oversight.Action taken by: Agency

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