US Inspector General audits West Virginia broadband spending

Last year, CivSource reported on an federal audit into how West Virgina was managing its stimulus-funded broadband expansion. At that time, state officials cast a wide net, blaming everything from the Japanese Tsunami to the Washington DC earthquake as to why the project was failing to meet benchmarks. Federal communications officials put a temporary freeze on the $126 million awarded to the state for the project. Shortly after that West Virginia submitted a revised plan and timetable which was approved by federal officials. Now, they are making a second audit to determine if funds were misappropriated.

West Virginia’s broadband expansion has had a rough ride since its inception. Originally, the state proposed a plan like many other states to expand broadband infrastructure by linking anchor institutions such as public offices and law enforcement. However, state officials were forced to revise that initial list and re-submit it to federal broadband officials after discovering that many of the originally proposed institutions already had broadband.

Other issues including natural disasters and fiber shortages were noted by state project managers during the first federal audit after West Virginia failed to meet deployment benchmarks. As we reported at the time, the state ran the risk of losing some funds due to the scaled back anchor institutions list and failure to make deadlines.

In May, Frontier Communications – one of the contractors responsible for building out the state network said their portion of the project was back on track. The report was met with questions from state project managers who noted that equipment costs seemed extraordinarily high.

Now, the US Inspector Generals Office has launched an audit into West Virginia’s broadband spending. The office will investigate whether funds were misappropriated and determine if state officials made material misrepresentations during their application process.

U.S. Reps. Greg Walden of Oregon and John Shimkus of Illinois requested the review, following a series of Charleston Gazette reports that raised questions about West Virginia’s stimulus spending. According to the Gaztte, the Inspector General’s office held a meeting with the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA), the federal agency overseeing West Virginia’s grant – the meeting did not include state officials. The meeting is meant to examine how the NTIA evaluated West Virginia’s application.

CivSource placed calls to both the NTIA and the Inspector General’s Office asking about the audit. NTIA Spokeswoman, Heather Phillips said, “the NTIA is cooperating fully with the Inspector General on the audit and is working to provide the necessary information.” Calls to the Inspector General have yet to be returned. The Gazette notes that site visits from auditors are expected in West Virginia in the coming weeks.

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