A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report says the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) needs to set specific performance goals for its broadband service funding program, and improve security measures to protect the program from fraud.

The USDA ReConnect program awards grants and loans to provide broadband service in rural areas. USDA also uses information from ReConnect and its other broadband programs to inform agency-wide performance goals.

For example, during two funding rounds, USDA used ReConnect data to support two department-wide performance goals – one dealing with the number of new subscribers resulting from projects funded by ReConnect and other USDA telecommunications programs, and the other with private investment resulting from certain USDA-funded projects.

However, USDA did not establish performance goals that would define the specific results it expected ReConnect to achieve.

“Setting performance goals would help the department better determine if ReConnect is meeting expectations distinct from its other programs. Based on that information, it could then make informed decisions about the program,” the report reads.

In addition, GAO found that USDA’s oversight of ReConnect aligns with some but not all of the selected leading practices in GAO’s fraud risk framework.

During the GAO review, USDA officials told GAO that its Office of the Chief Risk Officer is the designated entity to oversee fraud risk management for ReConnect. However, USDA officials have not documented this office’s responsibilities specifically for fraud risk management.

USDA officials have also identified and considered specific fraud risks in ReConnect, but they have not conducted a fraud risk assessment for the program, according to the report.

“Documenting the Office of the Chief Risk Officer’s responsibilities for fraud risk management and conducting a fraud risk assessment would help USDA ensure that it routinely identifies and mitigates all potential fraud risks to the ReConnect program,” the report states.

GAO made three recommendations to USDA on its ReConnect program:

  • Establish performance goals specific to the ReConnect program;
  • Document the designated entity’s responsibilities for overseeing fraud risk management activities; and
  • Conduct and document a fraud risk assessment.

USDA concurred with the recommendations laid out in the GAO report.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.