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Saturday, September 16, 2006

A new 2-in-5 rule

So I was looking at the Debarments list, thinking about how you can defraud the government every 3 years since the debarment is only 3 years long (unless you're a large corporation and you're really, really sorry, then it's only 6 months). And it occurred to me: maybe they should make allowances for large, multi-year frauds and create a 2-in-5 rule.

New forms a-comin'

What's this new news item on the SLD home page? New versions of all the forms (except the 470 and 471)?! Oh, it's just "slight modifications," which, of course means more certifications. If this trend continues, I'll have to find a new job when some new certification includes the phrase "first-born child."

The FCC is accepting comments, though, and that's hard to resist. (Anyone who would start a blog on something as boring as the E-Rate must have a very high opinion of his own opinions.) So here's my suggestion: dump the 486.

But what about the CIPA certs? Move them to the BEAR and SPI. Of course that would mean that applicants would have to certify the SPI (just as service providers have to certify the BEAR), which would be a prudent measure to prevent waste, fraud and abuse. Think about it: public servants who submit a BEAR requesting reimbursement to a public entity (which has been approved by the state DOE or State Library) have to get their request approved by the service provider, but any company can submit a SPI, and they get funding, no questions asked.

And yes, this has created fraud. Qasim and Haider Bokhari are both on the Debarment list, an elite club of 10 people (like the FBI Most Wanted, only more boring). For those of us who like to create meaningless statistics, fully 20% of convictions for E-Rate fraud could have been prevented by having applicants counter-sign the SPI. (Assuming that anyone actually read those forms, which is a bad assumption.)

However, I'm not sure I can bring myself to propose something that will increase the paperwork for applicants, and delay the invoicing process. So maybe we move the CIPA certifications to the 471, where they wouldn't even be noticed among the 14 or so certifications that are already on that form.

Word to the wise: don't put the draft forms on the Required Forms page next to the real ones. You just know a few confused people are going to use them (meticulously whiting out the "DRAFT" watermark), then the SLD is going to be forced to deny them, and the appeal will go to the FCC, which will whip out its "waived" rubber stamp and remand it, then the SLD will approve it, only now it's six months after the funding year is over and nobody's happy.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Another mass waive

Another FCC ruling, another massive wave of waivers. Only 128 applications covered this time, for late or misfiled 486es. Two reasons I'm feeling happy.

First, Paragraph 8 requires something I've been asking for: the SLD has to notify applicants that a 486 is overdue, and give them a chance to file it. It's always been a sore point with me that the SLD can see in its database that a 486 is coming due, or is overdue, and they don't do anything to let applicants know they're about to lose funding. Some state E-Rate coordinators, like Julie Tritt Schell over in PA, were notifying applicants at risk, and I was doing it for NJ schools when I had the time, but it's nice that the SLD will be doing it for all applicants.

Second, it's made me nostalgic. This decision grants the first appeal I ever wrote (back in 2004, for a school that was in a mess when I arrived). At least I think it's the first. It certainly looks amateurish enough. And I remember when we filed it, I told the applicant not to expect anything, because the FCC never grants appeals. How times have changed.

My favorite parts of the decision: footnotes 35 and 36.

#35 makes it clear that as long as an applicant is making its best effort to respond to the SLD, the 15-day response time is to be extended. The SLD has always been lenient, but it's good to have the FCC explicity state that the SLD is not obligated to deny applicants on the 16th day.

#36 removes a worry that I had: that the FCC was going to grant these giant waivers, then go back to the old "deny, deny, deny" mentality. This footnote implies (I think) that the FCC will continue to give waivers.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Reason #1 to file online

Here's the one fact that should make you file online:

80% of Forms 471 filed on paper are rejected.

So if you file on paper, it is very likely you will be rejected.

File online.

Reason #47 to file online

Yet one more reason to file the 471 online: if you are filing, and an FRN is likely to run afoul of the 2-in-5 rule, a box will pop up with a warning.

There will also be a new 2-in-5 tool that allows you to see where each of your locations stands in terms of the 2-in-5 rule. It won't be available to the public, and it's not going to be all that useful for applicants, but it's a pretty slick tool.

Undo button for 2-in-5 rule

Coming to you live from the SLD training in DC, I have a few things to write about from yesterday.

First, in the presentation about the 2-in-5 rule, I learned that applicants can cancel an FRN (or pull one school out of an FRN) at any time, even after funding is received. Of course, if you've received money, you have to give it back. This is great news for applicants that don't understand the 2-in-5 rule (and won't until it bites them) and have burned one of their years to buy a $1,000 router. Now they can give the funding back and get that year back.

More waiving

The FCC released another waiver. This one is for a district that says it filed its 486, but SLD lost it. Another waive/remand decision is no longer news, but I found two things interesting. First, it was a 486 decision. Some of us are awaiting a blanket 486 decision covering the dozens of pending 486 deadline appeals, so it's surprising to see a one-off decision like this. Second, the decision came 28 days after the appeal was filed. I can't remember that fast a turnaround. I'm thinking maybe the FCC is trying to push slam-dunks through quickly.