CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A giant-sized photograph of Kanawha County's Marmet Branch Library made its way to the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.
During a congressional hearing, House Republican lawmakers held up the photo and railed against West Virginia's decision to use stimulus funds to put a $22,600 Internet router in the tiny library that has a single computer terminal for patrons.
The library -- open three days a week -- is housed in a trailer that costs less than the router. The high-capacity stimulus-funded routers are designed to serve hundreds of Internet connections.
"We're talking about millions and millions of dollars here that were wasted," said U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Oregon, who serves as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.
Earlier this month, the West Virginia Legislative Auditor's Office found that West Virginia wasted at least $7.9 million -- and up to $15 million -- on the routers. The state is installing the devices at more than 1,000 "community anchor institutions" -- schools, libraries, State Police detachments, health centers, planning agencies, county courthouses and other public facilities. The audit concluded that West Virginia could have purchased smaller, less expensive routers for hundreds of sites.
On Wednesday, Republican lawmakers sparred with the Obama administration's telecommunications chief, Lawrence Strickling, who defended West Virginia's decision to buy the oversized routers with stimulus funds.
"There's no question the routers that West Virginia chose, through the process it used, provide superior capabilities," said Strickling, who heads the National Telecommunications & Information Administration. "There's no doubt that, if those routers are installed there, they're going to have far more capacity than one would expect they need now. But what West Virginia did was [think] how do we do this in a future-proof way . . . what do we need for the next 10 years?"
Walden read Strickling portions of the Legislative Auditor's report that scolded the state for circumventing its regular bid process and buying high-capacity Cisco 3945 series routers using a contract for Internet telephone service.
"So you're happy with the outcome in West Virginia?" Walden asked Strickling. "You believe what they did . . . is a good use of taxpayer money? I expect you to go after it, if [stimulus funds] have been wasted, and West Virginia to give it back to us."
Strickling criticized the state audit, saying it calculated savings based on the Cisco routers' list price -- and didn't take into account that the state received a discount for buying 1,164 routers in bulk.
"We're confusing the capabilities of what they're getting with the cost they paid," he said.
"Have you read the West Virginia audit that clearly identifies the problems and waste here, and calls for future investigations?" Walden asked Strickling.
"Yes, I did," Strickling responded.
Walden pointed to the Marmet library photo. "So you're OK with this little single-wide trailer having a $20,000 router?"
"That's not what I said, Mr. Chairman," Strickling responded.
"I believe it is," Walden said.
Later Wednesday, Legislative Auditor Aaron Allred said Strickling mischaracterized how the state audit calculated the wasted stimulus funds.