In a late-night vote before it adjourned, the Senate changed course and finally cleared a measure that will make it easier for the E-rate program to begin approving new funding commitments the way it had in the past. Earlier in the day, several Senate sources had advised that the measure was dead for the 108th Congress, but it moved forward after the House leadership agreed to consider a boxing reform measure sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, when the new Congress reconvenes.
The legislation will exempt the Universal Service Fund from the provisions of the Anti-Deficiency Act until December 31, 2005, giving the agencies involved more time to work out problems that have arisen when a decision was made to require the Universal Service Administrative Company to comply with the federal government's accounting standards. USAC presumably will be once again able to approve new funding commitments before the funds have actually been collected.
SLD spokesman Mel Blackwell said he anticipated that the agency would be able to move quickly to resume issuing funding commitments once the legislation is signed by President Bush. He said that as of today, the agency has about $500 million worth of funding commitments ready to issue, most of them involving funding requests for Priority 2 services for the 2004 funding year.
Late last week, Funds For Learning prepared and posted on its Website an analysis showing that many states represented by members of the congressional leadership and the congressional Commerce committees were among those where a larger-than-average percentage of funding commitments were still on hold. On Wednesday, Funds For Learning was asked to update that analysis to reflect the large wave that was released on December 3; the analysis showed that the pattern had continued to persist.