CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Any high school student, or maybe a junior high one, would have been wise enough to avoid buying mammoth $22,600 electronic routers for small offices, libraries, schools, clinics and the like that could be served nicely by units costing $500 or less.
Millions of federal tax dollars were squandered by purchasing huge devices capable of serving entire university campuses, then installing them in minor West Virginia facilities with only a handful of computers, tablets or smartphones each -- or even a lone computer. In one case, the router cost more than the library it served.
If such a blunder had occurred in private industry, executives would have been fired and even bankruptcy might have followed. But government bureaucracy just rolls along, in denial. Why aren't bureaucrats held accountable for their botches? The Manchin and Tomblin state administrations look incompetent in this mess.
When Statehouse reporter Eric Eyre began exposing this monumental waste a year ago, state Homeland Security Director Jimmy Gianato and a federal official defended the "overkill" purchases, saying they were needed for future expansion of the fast-escalating computer revolution.
But a state audit released Sunday supported every conclusion that Eyre's reports had drawn.
"The decision to spend the federal funds on oversized routers resulted in millions of dollars in federal funds not being spent on expanding the state's fiber-optic broadband network," the audit declared.
The fiasco began in 2010 when West Virginia received America's largest broadband stimulus award, $126 million, to extend fiber cable to 1,164 "community anchor institutions" such as police departments, 911 emergency centers, jails, schools, clinics, courthouses, etc.
One-fifth of the total was diverted to buy the monster-size routers that funnel data to surrounding Internet devices. Unfortunately, many large state facilities already had good systems and didn't need the giant units -- and many other facilities were so little that $500 routers could have served them.
As a result, numbers of the $22,600 machines sat unused in state warehouses. Apparently, nobody had made an intelligent advance study to learn what West Virginia needed.
After the new audit was released to legislators Sunday, state Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, said the purchases were "done without proper reasoning and proper authorization."
Since the huge routers were installed in some locations that hadn't yet received fiber-optic cable, Delegate Gary Howell, R-Mineral, quipped: "It's like the state bought Ferraris and all we built was a dirt road."
Both of them nailed it exactly.
Now, legislators and other state leaders must explore how to repair this botch and salvage as much as possible.
Meanwhile, will nobody be held accountable -- or will bureaucracy just fumble onward, as usual? West Virginians deserve to see some disciplinary action emerge from this flop.