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Federal watchdog recommends strategy for broadband access to avoid duplication

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A Congressional watchdog is warning lawmakers about the need of a national broadband strategy as federal programs proliferate.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office reported concerns about overlap and potential duplication in the federal governments effort to expand access to broadband internet.

“There are over 130 programs administered by 15 different agencies for expanding broadband throughout the country,” Comptroller General of the United States Gene Dodaro said. “These are all worthwhile efforts, but they could be better coordinated. We’ve recommended a national strategy where you could actually better measure, make sure there’s good coordination.”

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of access to broadband, despite at least $44 billion in federal investment from fiscal years 2015 through 2020. And Congress has continued to appropriate new funding for broadband programs, including nearly $65 billion for new and existing broadband programs in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in November 2021, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

“Among the 130 programs, some have broadband access as their main purpose, while for others broadband access is one possible use of program funds,” according to the report. “Programs also vary in how they support broadband – such as building broadband infrastructure, helping people afford broadband services or devices to access the internet, or building digital skills – and some programs can be used for multiple purposes.”

The Government Accountability Office report recommended a national strategy “with clear roles, goals and objectives.”

“A broadband national strategy could synchronize interagency efforts, manage fragmentation and overlap, and reduce the risk of potentially wasteful duplication,” according to the report. “Identifying key statutory provisions limiting program alignment could give Congress insight into possible beneficial legislative changes.”

The broadband strategy was one of 100 recommendations from an annual Government Accountability Office report released this week that identified ways to save taxpayers billions of dollars by reducing fragmentation, overlap and duplication across the federal government.

“By addressing this year’s targeted list … the federal government could potentially save tens of billions of dollars, significantly enhance revenues and make government programs work better for the American people,” Dodaro said.

The 126-page U.S. Government Accountability Office report outlined 100 corrective measures in 35 areas that lawmakers and federal agencies could take to save money and improve efficiency and effectiveness.

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