CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The U.S. Department of Commerce inspector general has started an investigation into West Virginia's use of $126.3 million in federal stimulus funds to expand high-speed Internet.
The Office of Inspector General plans to determine whether the state spent the broadband stimulus funds "properly and efficiently." The office also will examine whether West Virginia's application for the stimulus funds included "material misrepresentations," according to a letter released by the inspector general's audit division.
U.S. Reps. Greg Walden of Oregon and John Shimkus of Illinois requested the review, following a series of Charleston Gazette reports that raised questions about West Virginia's stimulus spending.
"I am pleased that our concerns about this spending are being investigated," Shimkus said Wednesday. "We just wanted answers, and this seems to be an appropriate step to determine if any policies were violated."
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's administration, which is responsible for implementing the broadband project, promised to cooperate with the review, which is expected to last eight months to a year.
"We are happy to assist the inspector general and provide any needed information," said state homeland security chief Jimmy Gianato, who also heads the state's three-member broadband project team. "We believe we have a good grant and believe this is going to give great opportunities to all West Virginians."
The inspector general has scheduled a special meeting today with leaders of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, the federal agency overseeing West Virginia's $126.3 million grant. West Virginia officials were not invited.
During the review, the inspector general plans to ask NTIA officials to explain how they evaluated West Virginia's request for the stimulus funds, and what steps the federal agency took to verify state officials' claims in the federal grant application.
In the application, former Gov. Joe Manchin's office said the state would build 2,400 miles of fiber, but the project's current plan calls for 567 miles of fiber.
"As always, we will work cooperatively with the inspector general's office as they conduct their review," an NTIA spokeswoman said Wednesday. "We thoroughly reviewed this application before awarding the grant and continue to believe this project will bring much-needed benefits to the people of West Virginia."
The inspector general started the review Friday. Agency auditors plan to review documents at NTIA's headquarters in Washington. Auditors also are expected to inspect sites and question officials in West Virginia.