November was certainly a bad month, public relations-wise, for the Administration’s stimulus program, what with claims that the program had created huge new numbers of jobs debunked. (Who would have guessed that numbers given for Arizona’s 15th congressional district or Minnesota’s 57th district were wrong?) But, as pointed out last week by my collegue Meinan Goto, there may be further trouble ahead. In a report recently released by the GAO, the government watchdog agency warns of possible waste, fraud and abuse in $4.7 billion broadband stimulus grants to be made by NTIA and the Rural Utilities Service.
The risks stem from a variety of sources, including the speed with which the grants are to be made, and the two agencies near-total lack of any experience with grants of this magnitude. The GAO also points out that, in true cart before horse fashion, NTIA and RUS will have to complete its first, and perhaps both, funding rounds before a map showing where broadband is needed is completed, and before the FCC completes its congressionally-mandated plan on to make broadband available.
GAO, of course, isn’t the first to point out this cart-and-horse situation, but that doesn’t make it any less serious. While less headline-grabbing than invented congressional districts, the report is nevertheless worth reading by anyone who thinks $4.7 billion is still real money.