In case you missed it, two “experts” with diametrically opposed positions recently testified before a United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Technology. One said criticism of the Lifeline free government cell phone program were “overblown, and frankly offensive” to poor and minority communities. The other said the Lifeline program needs a complete overhaul.
Which one do you believe?
law360.com tells more about the testimony:
Jessica J. González, senior counsel for liberal think tank Free Press, told the committee during a hearing on the Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program that lawmakers should recognize “the racist undertones” in “inflated stories of waste, fraud and abuse,” and acknowledge that many communities legitimately rely on Lifeline to meet basic needs.
“There’s a tendency to wage war on the poor, to demonize and assume the worst about Lifeline recipients,” she said.
The same article also spelled out the opposing point of view:
Jeffrey Eisenach, a visiting scholar with conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, told the panel on Wednesday that the best fix for Lifeline is a complete overhaul. He said the government could work on “better targeting” support, citing figures that indicated 19 of 20 people benefiting from Lifeline already had a cellphone or other support before receiving subsidies.
The Lifeline program, created by the Federal Communications Commission, costs more than $1.5 billion per year, and has always faced accusations of waste, fraud and abuse.
The Senate committee met to investigate a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) study that said unqualified customers are taking advantage the program’s lax verification policies.
“We should strive toward a prudent program, González continued, “but we must ensure everyone has access.”
What is all the hubbub about? Well, the GAO reported back in May that its auditors could not verify that up to one-third of Lifeline participants are actually eligible for the free government cell phone program. It said, in effect, that allowing service providers to verify potential customers’ eligibility is akin to putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. Even worse, the study said that a dozen Lifeline companies approved enrolled customers based on what they called “fictitious eligibility documentation.”
A third witness offered testimony that seemed to back up Eisenach’s position.
Seto Bagdoyan, a GAO auditor, said the FCC’s new national verifier database may just solve the waste, fraud and abuse problems.
“The FCC has taken some steps in the right direction. Execution is obviously the key here,” Bagdoyan declared. “National Verifier is clearly a good step forward, but full implementation is going to be very important.”
The good news is that the national database is designed to coordinate state and federal eligibility databases and to instantaneously weed out ineligible applicants. The bad news is that it won’t be fully functional in 2019.
We have long ranted and raved about the possibility that waste, fraud and abuse could be the weapon the kills the Lifeline Assistance free government cell phone program.
Our point of view? González is crying wolf, but Eisenach is being shortsighted. Bagdoyan is the only one of the three who is viewing the Lifeline world through realistic lenses.