Sneak Preview: RUS To Develop Broadband Grant Performance Goals

May 5, 2017 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment

xgran_bookshot(The following was excerpted from a recent article in the Federal Grants Management Handbook.) The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently agreed with a Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommendation to develop measurable goals and evaluate project outcomes for three broadband grant and loan programs overseen by USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS).

RUS oversees three award programs for deploying broadband infrastructure in rural communities. The Telecommunications Infrastructure Loan and Loan Guarantee Program has funded traditional telephone networks but, since the mid-1990s, has been used primarily to fund broadband network infrastructure that can provide both voice and data services. The Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee program and the Community Connect Grant Program also are specifically dedicated to financing broadband deployment.

GAO sought to determine whether RUS was meeting a set of 10 leading practices, based on federal guidance, when managing the broadband grant and loan programs. These practices evaluated RUS’s oversight in terms of program performance measurement, risk assessment, application review procedures, mapping, external training, project monitoring, external communication, internal communication, written documentation and coordination mechanisms.

GAO found that RUS was generally consistent or partially consistent with following the leading practices in these areas. For example, when reviewing applications, RUS has procedures for training reviewers, guarding against conflicts of interest and conducting multiple levels of review. In addition, RUS holds external workshops and seminars to inform rural communities and applicants about its programs, and applicants can also seek assistance from the RUS general field representative assigned to their area, GAO explained.

However, GAO noted that RUS could improve other practices. While USDA has a high-level goal and a performance metric for measuring the benefits to rural communities from the broadband loans and grants, RUS has not developed specific program-level goals or performance measures for its individual programs.

(The full version of this story has now been made available to all for a limited time on Thompson’s Grants Compliance Expert site.)

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