NTIA Must Continue to Improve its Program Management and Pre-Award Process for its Broadband Grants Program


Location:
Department of Commerce, 1401 Constitution Avenue, NW , Washington, DC, 20230, United States

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration entering its second round of funding broadband grant awards. While NTIA has made significant strides in implementing BTOP (developing a program office, issuing its first Notice of Funds Availability, reviewing more than 1,800 submitted applications, and announcing its initial awards) it is essential that NTIA apply the lessons it learned from the first funding round to promptly address any problems that may arise. The Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General found that:

1) BTOP's size and complexity have presented NTIA with significant challenges. NTIA's pro-gram staffing levels appear to be insufficient to simultaneously perform the necessary first-and second-round award activities. The office must rely heavily on a few key individuals and personnel from other agencies to carry out the program's operations.
2) NTIA's inconsistent documentation of important information such as policies, procedures, staff roles, and key management decisions could lead to inefficiency and miscommunication.
3) The first round of BTOP grant application processing exposed several problems with the online grant intake system, which affected efficiency and users' experiences.
4) A shortage of volunteer peer reviewers meant that application review for the first round was delayed. As NTIA manages the second-round process and handles post-award activities for first-round grant recipients, it must be careful to obtain enough reviewers for the workload.
5) NTIA will need to closely monitor grantees during the post-award phase to ensure they are in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The IG recommends that NTIA:

  • create a staffing plan that outlines the necessary resources to manage BTOP, and that makes provisions to adjust to the loss of key positions;
  • develop and implement policies and procedures that articulate key roles, responsibilities, and requirements for documentation;
  • have its in-house counsel document any program issues that arise and receive documented opinions from the Department of Commerce's Office of General Counsel;
  • supplement the existing pool of reviewers to address unforeseen delays or other impacts that could affect the application review timeline; and
  • continue to develop monitoring procedures to identify, track, and assist recipients at risk of experiencing delays in completing post-award NEPA requirements.

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