Lennard G. Kruger Specialist in Science and Technology Policy
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, P.L. 111-5)
provided an unprecedented level of federal funding for broadband projects
across the nation. These projects are intended to expand broadband
availability and adoption in unserved and underserved areas, which in turn is believed
to contribute to increased future economic development in those areas.
The ARRA provided nearly $7 billion for broadband grant and loan programs to be
administered by two separate agencies: the National Telecommunications and
Information Administration (NTIA) of the Department of Commerce (DOC) and
the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture
(USDA). With the ARRA broadband projects awarded and now moving forward,
the focus in Congress has shifted to oversight. NTIA and RUS are monitoring the
awards to protect against waste, fraud, and abuse, and to ensure that each
project reaches its promised milestones, goals, and outcomes. A key
oversight role will be played by the Offices of Inspector General in the
DOC and the USDA, which are monitoring the projects for waste, fraud, and
abuse, and are investigating specific complaints. Both NTIA and RUS have the
authority to reclaim and recover awards (either for cause or in cases
where awardees decide not to pursue the project) and return the
deobligated funds to the U.S. Treasury.
The 113th Congress will play an important oversight role. A number of
committees, including the House Committee on Energy and Commerce; the
House Committee on Agriculture; the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science
and Transportation; the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and
Forestry; and the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are expected to monitor
the ARRA broadband programs in NTIA and RUS.
To date, the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology has held two
oversight hearings on the ARRA broadband programs. In the 112th Congress, on October 5, 2011,
the House passed H.R. 1343, which sought to clarify and reinforce the
requirement that deobligated ARRA broadband funding is returned to the
U.S. Treasury. The legislation also would have set forth requirements for
how NTIA and RUS must respond to information and recommendations received
from the Office of the Inspector General and the Comptroller General. A
companion bill, S. 1659, was subsequently introduced in the Senate.
As the ARRA broadband projects move forward, the primary issue for the 113th Congress is how to ensure
that the money is being spent wisely and will most effectively provide
broadband service to areas of the nation that need it most, while at the
same time minimizing any unwarranted disruption to private sector
broadband deployment. Congress will also be assessing how the broadband
stimulus projects fit into the overall goals of the National Broadband Plan. .
Date of Report: January 4, 2013
Number of Pages: 24 Order Number: R41775 Price: $29.95
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