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Senate Leaders Want Lifeline Abuse Investigations

A bipartisan quartet of Senators want the Government Accountability Office to fork over some details about the waste, fraud and abuse it identified in the FCC-administered Lifeline low-income broadband subsidy program.

Tom Carper (D-Del.), Claire McCaskill (R-Mo.), D-Mo.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) sent the letter to the GAO asking it to send to the FCC and the FCC inspector general (currently David Hunt) details on the specific instances it identified in a report on Lifeline released by McCaskill in June.

They want the FCC IG to be able to identify and pursue the culprits if warranted.

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The senators also added a plug for the GAO report's recommendations on how the FCC can improve oversight of the program, something new chairman Ajit Pai has long called for.

“GAO found numerous examples of [Lifeline] program funds being used to subsidize ineligible or fraudulent subscribers,” wrote the Senators. “Addressing systemic weaknesses in Lifeline management and oversight, along with the referral of each instance of potential fraud identified by GAO, will ensure that the waste, fraud, and abuse that [GAO] identified is eliminated.”

They also want GAO to turn over the results of its undercover testing of the Lifeline program to the committee.

GAO found over a million potentially fraudulent accounts totaling more than $130 million in fraudulent subsidy payments.

Johnson and McCaskill are chair and ranking members, respectively, of the Senate Government Affairs Committee, and Portman and Carper are chair and ranking members of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

Related: Pai Pushes States for Lifeline Subsidy Abuse Info

McCaskill on June 29 released the results of a three-year GAO study that identified significant risks in the program, which subsidizes baseline telecom services to low-income residents. Historically the program covered phone service, though it is being migrated to broadband.

For example, GAO was unable to confirm whether 36% of the 3.5 million individuals it reviewed (or some 1.2 million) actually participated in any of the qualifying programs, like Medicaid, that they stated on their applications for the subsidy.

John Eggerton
John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.