According to a report released Tuesday by the Government Accountability Office, USDA's Rural Utilities Service will be on schedule to complete its Broadband Initiatives Program projects by the June 2015 deadline, but the program's large scope has presented a few hurdles.
As of March 2014, the GAO report found, approximately 14% (42 of the 295) BIP infrastructure projects were terminated for a variety of reasons according to RUS officials, such as financial difficulties or inability to meet requirements.
Of the 255 projects remaining, 87% were completed or partially operational, meaning they provide service to some subscribers, based on in-person inspections by field representatives.
The projects are intended to advance rural access to affordable broadband – which "is seen as vital to economic growth and improved quality of life," according to the GAO.
The 2009 Recovery Act appropriated funding for BIP, and by 2010, RUS had awarded over $3 billion to complete the nearly 300 projects.
But when the GAO investigated the projects' completion, using interviews from RUS officials and funding awardees, they found that BIP results are not tracked in USDA's annual performance reporting, and RUS has not shown how much the program's $3 billion in project funding—an unprecedented level of federal investment in broadband—has affected broadband availability.
RUS also has provided limited reporting on BIP program status and results during project implementation, since all funds have been obligated.
Though a senior RUS official says RUS will now issue quarterly status reports until at least September 2015, USDA has only included performance goals to provide better rural broadband, but has not reported BIP results annually.
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Without an updated performance goal and regular information reported on the results of BIP projects, the GAO report said, it will be difficult for USDA, RUS, and policy makers to determine the impact of Recovery Act funds or BIP's progress on improving broadband availability.
According to its recommendation, GAO suggests USDA report actual BIP results achieved against the updated subscribership goal.
In commenting on a draft of the report, USDA said it "agreed with the recommendation and will institute procedures to fully address it."
Read the full report on USDA's rural broadband reporting.