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Restoring Public’s Trust Important

January 24, 2014
The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

West Virginia might have been allowed to spend about $2.5 million in federal money to extend broadband Internet service to more people had the state not wasted so much money on similar projects.

A "stimulus" grant of more than $126 million was given to the state in 2010, for the purpose of improving access to broadband service. But when the deadline to spend the money passed Dec. 31, state officials had about $2.5 million left. They asked for an extension and for approval of a plan to spend the money to connect the state to the national Internet "backbone" in Pittsburgh and Columbus.

No, said federal officials. The money must be sent back to Washington.

We don't blame them. West Virginia's record on spending most of the $126 million is far from confidence-inspiring.

Not just one but two major fiascoes were allowed to occur. First was the purchase of hundreds of unnecessarily expensive, complex computer network routers for public facilities. About a year ago, the state Legislative Auditor's office concluded at least $7.9 million was wasted.

Second, and even more disturbing, was use of some of the federal money to construct new communications towers in West Virginia. It was learned that, even after the governor's office warned state officials responsible for the project, laws on bidding for such work were ignored.

No one, not even the officials who broke the law, ever was punished for what was done.

It is no wonder federal officials decided to recover some of the stimulus money from West Virginia.

Loss of that much money is a serious thing. But more worrisome is the cavalier attitude taken in Charleston toward the massive mistake on buying routers and crimes committed in the tower project.

With the same people involved in those two cases of misspending still in their jobs, what assurance do Mountain State taxpayers have that more money will not be wasted and more laws broken in the future?

State legislators, now in their annual 60-day regular session in Charleston, have plenty to occupy their time this winter. But restoring public confidence by holding those responsible for the broadband stimulus fiascoes accountable ought to be on their priority list.

 
 

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