Schools and Libraries Division officials told their governing committee April 19 that the SLD still has 1,861 applications left to review for 2003.
George McDonald, vice president of the Universal Service Administrative Company for schools and libraries, said "We are still trying to improve, but we are getting better," noting that at this point last year, the agency still had 2,437 applications to review. Eighty-five applications from 2002 remain under review.
As it starts to review applications for the 2004 filing year, the SLD is planning to restructure its Program Integrity Assurance review to give greater attention earlier to the applications submitted by consortia and other large applicants. In the past, the SLD's contractors were trying to review 80 percent of applications by July 1. Meeting that goal meant they tended to focus on smaller applications for Priority One services first.
Members of the Schools and Libraries Committee of the USAC Board of Directors will be traveling to Whippany, NJ later this week for a first-hand review of the SLD's application-review processes.
The SLD is also planning on creating a new position of "ombudsperson" that would be part of its outreach efforts. McDonald said that this person would be able to better address "a lot of the things that now come to me."
McDonald said that some times "an application falls into a crack, the issue gets resolved, but it doesn't keep moving." This new position, he said, "would be able to track issues that are brought to our attention and resolve them and uncover new issues."
Board chair Brian Talbott of the Association of Educational Service Agencies, said, "I've pushed for this for some time." Talbott said he had "sat in offices in certain states" as they had tried to get E-rate issues resolved and "sometimes you need a human being."
It was not clear to whom this person would report other than it would not be to McDonald.
McDonald noted that the Office of Management and Budget recently approved new forms for the Service Provider Invoice form and Billed Entity Applicant Reimbursement forms and that they would soon be posted on the SLD Web site. OMB is now reviewing revisions to the Form 470 and 471 applications. The Form 470 application will include revised language clarifying the availability of an RFP and the Form 471 will create a new category for Priority 2 maintenance services, which will not be subject to the new limitation on internal connections funding for only two out of every five years.
McDonald said the SLD currently has 159 appeals that have been under review for more than 90 days. He said there were 16 Service Substitution requests that had been pending for more than 60 days as they awaited more information, and five SPIN change requests that had taken longer than that.