The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, chaired by Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), today held a hearing to begin oversight of broadband spending allocated under the stimulus. Members heard from the Government Accountability Office and Inspectors General from the Departments of Agriculture and Commerce to address concerns over potential waste, fraud, and abuse. During the hearing, members also discussed draft legislation that would improve accountability and return unused or reclaimed funds to the U.S. Treasury.
"With today's hearing we begin exercising our important oversight role regarding the approximately $7 billion in taxpayer money the ARRA allocated to the NTIA and the RUS for broadband grants and loans," said Walden. "We will be interested to see the results, and hopefully to learn from the things that work, and the things that don't. With a $1.48 trillion deficit this year and the enormous deficits predicted for the rest of the decade, we have a responsibility to cut costs. I look forward to working with our members and incorporating our witnesses' suggestions to craft a bill that provides proper oversight and returns unused or reclaimed money to the U.S. Treasury."
U.S. Department of Commerce Inspector General Todd Zinser explained, "BTOP represents the largest and most complex grant program NTIA has ever overseen. The grant awards went to a diverse group of recipients, and conditions surround the awards themselves vary widely." Zinser continued, "The potential for fraud, waste, and abuse will increase substantially over the next 5 years as spending by BTOP grant recipients rises."
President and CEO of Eagle Communications Gary Shorman appeared before the Subcommittee to share how the stimulus program directly impacted his small communications company.
"Facing a government-subsidized competitor creates tremendous difficulties for small companies like Eagle and puts our continued viability at risk," said Shorman. "We have invested over $20 million in private capital in the last 5 years alone to bring cutting-edge broadband to our communities. Using scarce federal resources to undermine that investment by skewing the playing field is wrong. It threatens the jobs of our 277 employees who live in the very communities the award was intended to benefit, offsetting new jobs created by the project, and undermines one broadband provider in the area to benefit another."
Shorman concluded his testimony by "asking that this Committee consider legislation that would require wasteful funding to be returned to the Treasury so it can be used for other, more pressing and needed services."