West Virginia is spending $126.3 million in stimulus funds to increase Internet speeds at more than 1,000 "community anchor institutions" -- schools, libraries, health centers, county courthouses, jails, 911 centers, planning agencies and other public facilities.
About 630 sites are getting new fiber-optic connections. All 1,100 locations are receiving high-capacity routers.
A recent West Virginia Legislative Audit report found that the state wasted at least $7.9 million -- and up to $15 million -- on the $24 million router purchase. Auditors also are examining the use of the stimulus funds to build a $40 million fiber network.
House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said the Tomblin administration should release all documents that show how the state is spending the federal stimulus funds. The federal government requires broadband grant recipients to be "open and transparent" about their use of the stimulus funds.
"When you have a project, and you're talking about millions of dollars in spending, and there are questions about whether those funds were efficiently spent, the public has a right to know about it," said Armstead, who has introduced a bill that would eliminate the Freedom of Information Act exemption that Burdette cited to keep secret ICF's report.
Armstead also noted that Burdette wouldn't release a memo paid for with Commerce Department funds.
"It's insulting to tell the public they have to pay for something and they can't see it," Armstead said. "The public paid for that report."
Although Burdette disagreed with ICF's assessment of the $126.3 million project, his department continued to pay the Virginia consulting firm for advice and reports on other broadband-related projects. ICF has received $320,000 under its contract, according to invoices.
Burdette said he found only one document about the $126.3 million project, but ICF was paid at least $118,000 for its analysis -- about $38,000 more than the state initially budgeted for the task, invoices show. The consultants presumably had numerous discussions and meetings with state officials.
Since May, the Gazette has published a series of reports raising questions about the state's use of the $126.3 million in stimulus funds.
Burdette said he met with Tomblin's chief counsel, Peter Markham, before deciding not to make ICF's critical comments public. Burdette acknowledged that the exemption doesn't require him to withhold the ICF memo. In other words, he could release the document, even though he believes state law allows him to keep it confidential.
Asked why he wouldn't do so, Burdette responded with a laugh, "Because you're dangerous."
Reach Eric Eyre at erice...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.