NTIA three months behind on broadband grant distribution, GAO says

Agency expects to award $1.6 billion by end of February

The Commerce Department has had to push back by three months its scheduled date for awarding the first round of $1.6 billion in broadband grants under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is administering the distribution of a total of $4.7 billion in broadband grants to expand services to unserved and underserved areas, enhance broadband capacity at public computer centers, and encourage sustainable adoption of broadband.

“While Commerce originally anticipated that this review would be completed by November 7, 2009, the agency now estimates that it will not complete this review process and award the first round of grants until February 2010,” states the GAO report of Dec. 28.

However, Jessica Schafer, an NTIA spokeswoman, asserts that the GAO got the timetable wrong and the delay is just a month.

“Unfortunately, the GAO report cited in the article contains an error when describing the timeline of our program,” Schafer said today. “The program is not running ‘three months behind.’ We only extended our first round application review process by about a month and began awarding Broadband Technologies Opportunities Program grants in December.”

The NTIA originally planned to begin announcing broadband awards in November but extended that to Dec. 17, Schafer said. The first-round awards were to be completed by Dec. 31 but that has been extended to February, she added.

To beef up its capacity, Commerce estimated that it would need 30 additional staffers in fiscal 2009 and 40 additional personnel in fiscal 2010.

The GAO, in a previous report, recommended that Commerce and Agriculture create contingency plans to address the staffing issues, and officials from both departments agreed with the recommendations.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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