January 10, 2006

FCC inspector general Feaster retires

By Jeremy Pelofsky

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Communications
Commission's inspector general, who fought for more resources
to probe abuses in subsidized communications to schools and
libraries, retired last week, according to a notice obtained by
Reuters on Monday.

Walker Feaster left the agency on January 3 after more than
11 years in the position and 38 years of government work,
according to the internal FCC notice. An attempt to reach him
for comment on Monday was not successful.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has appointed as acting inspector
general Kent Nilsson, who works in the agency's office of
engineering and technology, said FCC spokesman David Fiske,
declining further comment.

The inspector general's office already had three vacancies,
according to its Web site, the assistant inspector general for
the Universal Service Fund (USF), the assistant inspector
general for investigations, and a senior auditor.

Feaster in October clashed with the FCC over its plans to
overhaul management and monitoring of the USF, which includes
the E-Rate schools and libraries program, expressing concerns
that his oversight could be impeded by changes adopted.

The FCC backed a five-year period for inquiries into
possible wrongdoing in the E-Rate program, according to
Feaster's office. He told the agency that "such arbitrary
limits on auditing are poor policy and do not apply to OIG

The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and
investigations issued a scathing report last year criticizing
the E-Rate program and the FCC, which administers it, for
inadequate safeguards to ensure funds were properly used.

Feaster repeatedly lobbied Congress to provide more
financial resources so his office could audit the E-Rate
program, which subsidizes linking schools and libraries to the
Internet and providing them other telecommunications services.

Lawmakers have called for more rigorous oversight, stricter
rules for approving E-Rate funds, better bidding procedures and
the setting of specific goals and measures of effectiveness.

The E-Rate program has disbursed more than $10 billion
since it was created in 1998. It is funded by contributions
from companies that offer long-distance telephone service,
which typically pass on the cost to consumers.

The FCC asked Congress last year for $3.17 million in 2006
to boost oversight of the Universal Service Fund (USF), which
also includes programs to subsidize phone service in high-cost
areas and to low-income households.

The Senate initially considered allowing the inspector
general's office to use USF money to monitor the program but
that provision was later struck from the budget bill.

Feaster's office also planned to review the $211 million in
USF aid the FCC was making available for hurricane victims.