USAC has announced its new approach to managing application reviews. Applicants who are not aware of the new process may inadvertently place their FY2016 applications in jeopardy. All school and library officials who are associated with the E-rate program, especially those who are required to register in the EPC system, are strongly encouraged to familiarize themselves with the new application review procedures.
USAC has a responsibility to confirm that only eligible schools and libraries receive E-rate funding; that E-rate discounts rates are calculated properly; and that only eligible goods and services receive E-rate support. USAC’s process for checking those items is called Program Integrity Assurance (PIA).
In prior years, requests for information were initially emailed from a PIA reviewer to the contact person listed on the school or library’s Form 471 application. In many cases, the contact person would then designate another individual with whom the PIA reviewer could correspond to get their questions answered. The PIA process essentially has functioned in this manner since the E-rate program began.
But this is all about to change. In a Special Edition News Brief, USAC recently explained that PIA has been overhauled and that the new process will be managed through the EPC portal. If you have successfully certified your FY2016 Form 471, you should prepare yourself for the changes that await you.
- Receiving the questions via the user interface is quite a bit different than getting an email or Word file. This is particularly apparent when there is the need to share a question with someone that does not have an EPC account (e.g. the Director of Food Services, network administration employees, etc.)
- There is not a way to ask clarifying questions of the reviewer via the EPC interface.
- Response attachments can be uploaded, but there are no free form text fields in which to provide explanations (i.e. every response requires that a document be created and uploaded.)
- There is not a receipt confirmation after a response is submitted.
- All responses must be submitted simultaneously. The system does not allow for individual questions to be answered one-at-a-time.
As with the rest of EPC, using the current system is akin to using an alpha or beta version of software. We expect that this process will evolve over time and that USAC will make changes to improve it. The on-going changes underscore the need for applicants to maintain a vigilant watch on their EPC account and to closely monitor all communications channels.