NTIA Oversight Is Helping BTOP Projects Succeed

Tue, February 26, 2013 by Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator Lawrence E. Strickling
Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator Lawrence E. Strickling

As the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) nears completion, NTIA staff is continuing to work closely with our grantees to ensure that projects are wrapping up on time and within budget, delivering the promised broadband benefits to the communities they serve.

Ensuring projects meet their milestones and protecting taxpayer funds is of paramount importance to NTIA. Our staff performs extensive and diligent oversight and provides technical assistance to our recipients tailored to their needs. This oversight involves a significant level of effort, and requires our staff to sometimes take tough enforcement action to protect taxpayer funds.

NTIA oversees our projects in a number of ways. Staff remains in close and frequent contact with award recipients via regularly scheduled conference calls, email exchanges, drop-in calls on specific administrative or programmatic topics, and in-person conferences. These contacts serve as a means to reinforce the terms and conditions associated with each award and help ensure that NTIA quickly addresses challenges that arise. Additionally, recipients must report quarterly and annually to NTIA on key financial and programmatic activities. These reports are posted publicly and provide detailed information on progress in achieving program outcomes, use of funds, challenges faced, and expected future progress. Finally, NTIA conducts site visits to projects and has conducted over 150 oversight visits representing more than 94 percent of BTOP federal award dollars.

As issues arise, NTIA utilizes tools such as technical assistance, Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs), Corrective Action Plans (CAPs), award suspension, or award termination, to highlight concerns and provide opportunities for recipients to get back on track.

A primary goal of NTIA’s rigorous outreach, oversight, and monitoring is to identify issues as early in the process as possible and resolve them promptly. While the vast majority of BTOP projects have performed well, NTIA identified problems with 9 projects out of 233 awarded by NTIA over the past three years and our Grants Office took enforcement actions to ensure that taxpayer dollars weren’t being wasted. (This does not include the 7 public safety BTOP grants that were partially suspended May 2012 following enactment of the law creating the First Responder Network Authority.)

In many cases, NTIA’s oversight and technical assistance have successfully enabled projects to get back on track after suffering initial obstacles. Over the past two years, four grant recipients totaling approximately $229 million were put on suspension and then restarted after the grantee addressed our concerns. As a result of our proactive intervention, the projects are stronger, more successful, and more responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars.

Currently, three projects are under suspension for performance-related issues, representing $158.9 million. NTIA staff is working closely with these projects, and we remain hopeful that they can get back on track to deliver important benefits to their communities.

In its three years of operation, NTIA has terminated only two BTOP projects for failing to live up to the terms of their grant. Those projects spent $11 million, representing about .3 percent of all BTOP funds awarded. Separately, four projects voluntarily terminated their awards in the very early stages, spending less than $50,000.

While I am disappointed that these particular projects will not deliver their intended benefits to communities in need of broadband, these experiences underscore that NTIA’s strong federal oversight and monitoring of its BTOP projects has protected the taxpayer investment in expanded broadband availability. NTIA will continue to work closely and proactively with all recipients to ensure the success of the program as a whole.

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