Fed Broadband Push Needs Goals, Fraud Work


As the Federal government cranks away at its mammoth effort to distribute billions of funding to boost broadband service availability and quality across the United States, the government’s chief watchdog agency wants one of the agencies involved in that effort to do more work on program goals and related fraud assessments.

A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is calling on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to develop comprehensive performance goals and measures, as well as a fraud risk assessment, for two programs that are pumping out billions of broadband funding nationwide.

Those two programs are the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP) and the Broadband Infrastructure Program (BIP), both of which were funded by Congress through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. The programs aims to expand broadband connectivity in all 50 states, and in the process help close the digital divide that separates citizens with ready access to fast and affordable broadband services and those who don’t.

While NTIA has already taken some steps to try and measure the success of the new programs, GAO said the agency has more work to do to track progress and identify fraud risks at the state and local levels.

For example, GAO said that NTIA has already developed some performance goals and measures for TBCP and BIP, but the watchdog agency said they were not fully quantifiable.

“NTIA’s goals for both programs included terms such as ‘reliable’ and ‘affordable’ that are not defined and therefore are not fully quantifiable,” GAO wrote. “NTIA officials said that the agency was still developing goals and measures. Without comprehensive goals and measures, NTIA will be unable to track its progress.”

On the fraud front, GAO said that NTIA’s fraud risk management activities did not line up with leading practices, and the agency failed to conduct a fraud risk assessment.

Under leading practices, GAO said, Federal agencies should conduct proper fraud risk assessments “by comprehensively identifying fraud risks, assessing the likelihood and impact of fraud, setting fraud risk tolerance, examining current antifraud controls, and documenting the fraud risk profile.”

“Without designating an entity to oversee fraud risk management activities and conducting a five-step fraud risk assessment, NTIA lacks assurance that it is sufficiently positioned to combat fraud,” GAO said.

The watchdog agency offered 15 recommendations to NTIA to better measure the performance of the two programs and to complete fraud risk management activities. NTIA agreed with the recommendations and outlined actions to address them.

Notably, NTIA said it is in the process of developing a Risk Management Council (RMC) that will provide “governance and oversight” over the programs.

“The RMC’s purpose is to identify, assess, and respond to the greatest priority risk to the [programs’] strategic goals and objectives, define risk tolerance and targets for mitigation, and drive integration of risk management, including fraud risk, across all of NTIA’s grant programs,” NTIA said.