In the first blog of our new series, “E-rate Universe”, we are going to examine the phenomena of black holes. And by black holes, I mean specifically the one located at USAC. It seems that while some forms, invoices and requests get processed with relatively little complications and in an acceptable timeframe, others seem to be pulled into a “paperwork” black hole.
Science defines a black hole as an area in space from which nothing, not even light, can escape. I define USAC’s black hole as an area in New Jersey from which paperwork cannot escape. A black hole consists of an undetectable surface which marks the point of no return, known as the event horizon. USAC’s event horizon is the point after 30 days in which paperwork is held up in processing.
“May the Schwartz be with you.”
There is an undeniable lack of consistency in form processing time at USAC. While the invoicing department does a great job at providing E-rate stakeholders with statistics involving the number of invoices processed in any given month, requests like SPIN changes, service substitutions and pending applications are held up in the processing black hole. Which begs the question, what kind of standard policy does USAC have for processing forms?
More often than not, I see applications with a status of “Initial Review” or “Quality Assurance” which remain that way for months without any indication of any update or progress. More egregiously, reviewers have confirmed that if a Form 471 application is too complex, such is the case with consortium applications, it simply gets put to the side while other less complex applications are reviewed. While applications are being reviewed more quickly than in prior years, the approval rate seems to be based on smaller applications with simpler funding commitment requests.
It seems that if you want to get a form processed in a reasonable time you need the force, the Schwartz, or a Vulcan death grip.
“Make it so.”
I would like to see the operations manual for form processing at USAC. How is it that I can get one Form 486 processed in 24 hours and another get held up in processing for over two years? USAC does a relatively fine job at Form 470 and Form 471 processing, why are auxiliary forms and requests so inconsistent in the processing time? I understand that the sheer number of forms and requests that USAC receives is extraordinarily large. However, the inconsistency by which items are processed is unacceptable.
I don’t think I’m asking for much here. Particularly when it comes to an applicant’s funding being held up because of the delay in processing forms. Every time I call the Client Services Bureau to inquire about a form or request that has been languishing in the USAC black hole, I usually receive an “that-is-still-being-processed.” When further questioned as to why it is still “in process” I’m more often than not told “I don’t know.”
I understand this is a government program and that the wheels of government often move very very slowly. But funding is at stake here, funding that schools desperately need. USAC, can you please be more consistent? I say make it so.