FCC ‘Strike Force' to Curb Abuses of Universal Service Fund

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By Brandon Ross  

July 14 — The Federal Communications Commission announced the creation of a “strike force” to fight “waste, fraud and abuse” related to the agency's Universal Service Fund program.

The strike force, announced by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler July 14, will be led by Loyaan Egal, formerly a senior assistant U.S. attorney in the Fraud and Public Corruption Section of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia.

The strike force is part of a broad and long-term plan to secure the integrity of the Universal Service Fund (USF), an FCC spokesman told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail July 14. The FCC will consider both modified existing tools and new and innovative ways of examining issues as it combats waste, fraud and abuse, the spokesman said.

“The strike force's investigations and activities will promote future compliance, protect those who depend on the funds for access, and safeguard contributors to the funds from the unlawful acts of others,” Wheeler's announcement said.

“While still in its foundational stage, the Strike Force will continue to grow to include experienced prosecutors, investigators, and forensic analysts,” the announcement said.

While the strike force will essentially be serving an identical purpose as the FCC Office of Inspector General (OIG), its focus on the agency's USF will distinguish it as part of the FCC Enforcement Bureau, which oversees compliance of the commission's rules and orders.

The strike force will coordinate with the OIG, Justice Department and other law enforcement agencies to “prosecute unlawful conduct,” the announcement said.

“The USF strike force expands the commission's activities, including those of the FCC Office of Inspector General, to protect the integrity of the Universal Service Fund and ensure that the American people's money is wisely spent,” Wheeler said in the announcement.

“Loyaan Egal is an experienced public corruption and fraud prosecutor who will lead the Enforcement Bureau's augmented efforts to police the integrity of USF programs and funds,” said Enforcement Bureau Acting Chief Travis LeBlanc as part of the announcement.

Announcements Follows Two FCC Actions

The announcement comes just days after the FCC took action to further reform two key Universal Service Fund programs, E-Rate and the Connect America Rural Broadband Fund. E-Rate helps schools and libraries obtain Internet access at a discounted cost, and Connect America helps provide Internet service to rural areas, where there are often higher-than-average costs involved.

During the FCC's July 11 open meeting, the agency voted to modernize the 18-year-old E-Rate program by approving an order to spend $2 billion to increase Wi-Fi access in schools and libraries over the next two years.

At that same open meeting, the FCC also said it was adding $100 million to help fund experiments related to its Connect America program.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Ross in Washington at bross@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

The Official Announcement http://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-chairman-wheeler-announces-universal-service-fund-strike-force