Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler on Monday announced the creation of a team to fight abuse, fraud and waste in programs within the Universal Service Fund, a 17-year-old creation intended to meet obligations spelled out in the Telecommunications Act of 1997.
Loyaan Egal, a former senior Assistant U.S. Attorney who worked on fraud and public corruption, will lead a team that will be located in the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau.
The USF Strike Force will concentrate on protecting the Universal Service Fund, whose disbursements exceeded $8.3 billion last year, as well as other funding programs overseen by the FCC. The team will investigate violations of the Communications Act, FCC rules and other laws impacting USF contributions and programs.
“While still in its foundational stage, the Strike Force will continue to grow to include experienced prosecutors, investigators, and forensic analysts," the FCC stated.
Through contributions to the USF based on their interstate end-user revenues, telecommunications providers support four separate programs that include discounted services for low-income consumers, schools and libraries. Other USF programs support rural health care as well areas that are expensive to serve such as rural communities.
“Identifying and eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse to protect taxpayer dollars has been a top priority for House Republicans, and we welcome Chairman Wheeler’s additional focus within the Universal Service Fund," said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Oregon), who chairs the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee, in a statement. "As the USF has continued to grow, it has become an increasing cost on consumers’ monthly phone bill. The FCC has a responsibility to ensure any dollars being spent are being spent wisely and efficiently."