Audit: Funds Wasted On Routers

CHARLESTON (AP) – A federal audit concludes the state wasted federal stimulus funds and failed to properly track Internet routers that cost $24 million.

The report Friday by the inspector general of the U.S. Commerce Department found that the state could have purchased smaller and less expensive routers for schools, libraries, health clinics, county courthouses and planning agencies.

The review of the router purchase last summer was done at the request of two congressional subcommittees.

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., who serves as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, called the findings “disturbing.”

“This is an unfortunate example of how government does not keep track of how it spends taxpayer money,” he said.

The router purchase was part of a $126.3 million stimulus-funded project designed to increase high-speed Internet at 1,164 public facilities in West Virginia.

The auditors found that West Virginia officials made the $24 million router purchase without conducting a study to determine what size routers were needed at public facilities, or “community anchor institutions.”

State officials pushed back Friday on parts of the audit, contending West Virginia got a discounted price on the routers and has upgraded its equipment-tracking system. The routers cost $22,600 each.

“We do not believe purchasing routers with enhanced capabilities for our ‘community anchor institutions’ was a waste of taxpayer resources,” said Rob Alsop, chief of staff for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s office. “Instead, we view this project as an investment in West Virginia’s future.”

West Virginia officials met with Cisco engineers and sales representatives on the routers. They suggested that Cisco 3945 series routers would best meet the project’s requirements. Cisco also provided 100 free routers to the state and extended its router warranty from three to five years at no additional cost.

Inspector General’s Office staff members asked a Cisco representative why the company didn’t suggest a smaller router, such as the Cisco 2900 series router. The representative said the smaller router didn’t have a dual power source that would keep running during “mechanical failures.”

While the dual power source is critical for some operations, such as 911 centers, uninterrupted service is not critical for schools and libraries, as well as other facilities, the audit said.

The state has designated 53 of the 1,164 routers to county 911 centers and 70 to State Police detachments.

The audit found that the state could have saved $1.2 million by purchasing Cisco 2900 series routers in 23 West Virginia counties with fewer than 20,000 residents. Those counties received 231 of the 1,164 routers.