Legislators Urge Funding for NTIA BTOPs Grants Oversight

October 12, 2010. HR 1 [LOC | WW], the huge spending bill passed by the Congress in February of 2009, provided $7.2 Billion to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and Rural Utilities Service (RUS) for the purpose of promoting broadband.

Much of this money is being spent via multi-year grants. That bill, however, did not appropriate funds for the government to conduct ongoing oversight of these grants. Legislators are now seeking funding for such oversight.

For example, on September 16, 2010, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), the Chairman of the House Commerce Committee (HCC), and Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), the Chairman of the HCC's Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet (SCTI), sent a letter [PDF] to the Chairmen and ranking Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee (HAC) and its Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, urging the HAC to appropriate $23.7 Million to the NTIA to oversee and manage the grants it has awarded under its Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), which was funded by HR 1.

The Congress adjourned until after the November elections without appropriating further funds.

HR 1, titled the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009", provided $4.7 Billion for NTIA to create the BTOP to manage competitive grants to entities for broadband infrastructure, public computer centers, and projects to stimulate consumer demand for, and adoption of, broadband.

Rep. Waxman and Rep. Boucher now asked for additional "resources beyond September 30, 2010 for grant oversight".

Neil Fried, Republican counsel to the HCC and its SCTI, participated in panel discussion on Capitol Hill on October 12 at which he discussed this matter. He said that the passage of HR 1 was so rushed that it "doesn't provide for oversight of the grants".

Daniel Sepulveda, who works for Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), spoke at the same event. He said that Sen. Kerry too supports giving the NTIA sufficient funds to conduct oversight. He added that "it was clearly an oversight".

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) stated in a report [51 pages in PDF] released on August 4, 2010, and titled "Recovery Act: Further Opportunities Exist to Strengthen Oversight of Broadband Stimulus Programs" that "Effective monitoring and oversight of over $7 billion in Recovery Act broadband stimulus funding will require significant resources, including staffing, to ensure that recipients fulfill their obligations."

Rep. Waxman and Rep. Boucher wrote in their letter that "Since BTOP infrastructure projects are complex and a number of awardees are new to the federal grant process, most, if not all, projects will require technical assistance and careful monitoring, including site visits, to ensure they achieve their program objectives, are completed on time, and comply with federal regulations."

They ask for a Fiscal Year 2011 appropriation of $23.7 Million for BTOP oversight, monitoring, management, and reporting. The letter is dated September 16, 2010. The HCC released the letter to the public on September 28, 2010.

Fried and Sepulveda spoke at an event hosted by the Free State Foundation (FSF) titled "Looking Forward: Will Congress Establish Broadband Policy?"