Spokesman Clark Reed of the Office of Inspector General, or OIG, said the audit is being conducted at six entities nationwide, including EAGLE-Net. Each received grant money under the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, or BTOP. This audit is being conducted to determine if telecommunications equipment was, among other things, properly acquired and tested, and whether it is the most effective equipment available, according to OIG documents. The six entities being audited are among a group of 117 award recipients.
Reid said the OIG audits programs involving federal tax dollars almost continuously, as part of its oversight function, but that its investigations arise out of tips about improper or fraudulent activity. “This is an audit, not an investigation,” Reid said.
EAGLE-Net had also objected to the characterization, saying there is “a huge difference between an investigation and an audit.
“The OIG was in our office last week for a routine audit on the BTOP program,´ said spokeswoman Gretchen Dirks. “We are one of several BTOP award recipients who are undergoing an equipment audit. The OIG left the time to respond open, and there could be follow ups to the audit. EAGLE-Net will continue to offer our support as needed.”
Gardner’s office, which has made numerous complaints about the federal stimulus program and EAGLE-Net’s $100.6 million grant, said the agency was splitting hairs.
“The office of inspector general is looking at how taxpayer money is spent! Sounds like a duck,” Gardner spokeswoman Rachel George said in an e-mail.
OIG’s Reid said the current audit on equipment purchases, which was planned last December, could take up to one year to complete.
Prior to the latest news of the audit, Gardner and other congressional Republicans, had expressed concerns that EAGLE-Net, an alliance of schools and libraries charged with building a high-speed network to serve rural and underserved areas, is competing improperly with private-sector internet service providers, that it has laid fiber optics in areas already served by other companies, and that it has spent most of its money without fulfilling its core mission, especially on Colorado’s Western Slope.
As part of the federal stimulus program, EAGLE-Net in 2010 was given $100.6 million to build a high-speed network that would help ensure that underserved and rural K-12 schools and libraries in Colorado would have access to the digital highway.
In December, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration suspended EAGLE-Net’s grant as it investigated alleged problems.
The agency lifted that suspension April 29, saying EAGLE-Net had corrected many of the deficiencies, which were related to required environmental assessments of its construction work, not any alleged overbuilding, according to the NTIA.
In its letter lifting the suspension, the NTIA said, “ENA has developed a plan for use of the remaining grant funds that focuses on western Colorado. The plan also maximizes the number of school districts connected to the network directly or through partnership with providers.”