NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Wired to Fail

August 17, 2015

A Politico investigation found that roughly half of the nearly 300 projects the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) approved as part of the 2009 Recovery Act have not yet obligated the full amounts they were awarded. 

  • All RUS-funded infrastructure projects were supposed to have completed construction by the end of June, but the agency has declined to say whether these rural networks have been completed.
  • More than 40 of the projects RUS initially approved never got started at all, raising questions about how RUS screened its applicants and made its decisions in the first place. 

If these networks do not draw all their cash by the end of September, they will have to forfeit what remains. In other words, they may squander as much as $277 million in still-untapped federal funds, which can\'t be spent elsewhere in other neglected rural communities. 

Either way, many rural residents who should have benefited from better Internet access -- a utility that many consider as essential as electricity -- might continue to lack access.  Even RUS admits it\'s not going to provide better service to the 7 million residents it once touted; instead, the number is in the hundreds of thousands. 

The checkered performance of RUS offers an all-too-familiar story of an obscure federal agency that has grown despite documented failures, thanks in large part to its political patrons in Congress. 

"We are left with a program that spent $3 billion," says Mark Goldstein, an investigator at the Government Accountability Office, "and we really don\'t know what became of it." 

Source: Tony Romm, "Wired To Fail," Politico, July 28, 2015.

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