Senators push for possible FCC enforcement over Lifeline fraud

Senators push for possible FCC enforcement over Lifeline fraud

A bipartisan group of senators is calling for scrutiny of a program that aims to provide affordable broadband for low-income households, following a recent report that highlighted abuse and fraud within the initiative.

In a letter on Tuesday to the office of Government Accountability Office (GAO), which conducted the original study that revealed abuses in the Lifeline program, Sens. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillDemocrats turn on Al Franken Trump rips Dems a day ahead of key White House meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Mo.) , Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonOvernight Cybersecurity: Panel pushes agencies on dropping Kaspersky software | NC county won't pay ransom to hackers | Lawmakers sound alarm over ISIS 'cyber caliphate' GOP chairman warns of ISIS's ‘cyber caliphate’ Overnight Finance: House approves motion to go to tax conference — with drama | GOP leaders to consider Dec. 30 spending bill | Justices skeptical of ban on sports betting | Mulvaney won't fire official who sued him MORE (R-Wis.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Overnight Finance: House approves motion to go to tax conference — with drama | GOP leaders to consider Dec. 30 spending bill | Justices skeptical of ban on sports betting | Mulvaney won't fire official who sued him How four GOP senators guided a tax-bill victory behind the scenes MORE (R-Ohio) and Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperAvalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Overnight Cybersecurity: Mueller probe cost .7M in early months | Senate confirms Homeland Security nominee | Consumer agency limits data collection | Arrest in Andromeda botnet investigation Senate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank MORE (D-Del.) pressed the watchdog to provide all specific instances of fraud in the program to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The senators wrote that they would like FCC Office of the Inspector General to review the instances for “further investigation and possibly enforcement action.”

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The original study that the GAO conducted of the program that's intended to subsidize internet access for low-income households found widespread fraud and abuse.

The report noted that as many as 1.2 million potentially fraudulent accounts were receiving money from the government initiative, totaling as much as $137 million in waste. In some cases money was going to individuals who were deceased.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai had initially made it a point to reduce waste in the program, cutting nine broadband providers from the program in February.

The FCC did not comment on the senators' letter on Tuesday, but Pai will likely be eager to cooperate with them.

“Chairman Pai looks forward to working with his colleagues to crack down on the unscrupulous providers that abuse the program, because every dollar that is spent on subsidizing somebody who doesn’t need the help by definition does not go to someone who does," FCC spokesperson Neil Grace said in response to the GAO report when it was released in June.

Despite bipartisan criticism of Lifeline, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s top Democrat, Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), has cautioned against attacking the Lifeline program too harshly.

After the study’s release in June, Pallone stressed that many problems that GAO found with Lifeline had been corrected prior to the release of its investigation.

“Lifeline has been a critical springboard for struggling families across the country for decades, and it would be a mistake to use this report as an excuse to rip away this essential service from struggling families and hardworking people,” Pallone noted at the time.