Let Freedom Ring Must Reads
The controversial “Obamaphone” program, which pays for cellphones for the poor, is rife with fraud, according to a new government report released Thursday that found more than a third of enrollees may not even be qualified.
Known officially as the Lifeline Program, the phone giveaway became a symbol of government waste in the previous administration. Now a new report from the Government Accountability Office bears out those concerns.
A supporter displays an iPhone during a rally for Sen. Barack Obama in Raleigh, N.C., on Oct. 29, 2008. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s very selection as running mate was officially announced to the world through a telephone text message. (Associated Press)
“We’re currently letting phone companies cash a government check every month with little more than the honor system to hold them accountable, and that simply can’t continue,” she said.
The program, run by the Federal Communications Commission, predates President Obama, but it gained attention during his administration when recipients began to associate the free phone with other benefits he doled out to the poor.
More than 5,500 people were found to be enrolled for two phones, while the program was paying for nearly 6,400 phones for persons the government has listed as having died.
Investigators also submitted fraudulent applications to see what would happen, and 12 of the 19 phone carriers they applied to approved a phone.
The theory behind the program was that poor people needed a phone to apply for a job or conduct other business in the modern economy, so they were provided with what was supposed to be a low-cost, limited-service benefit.
Though the program is administered by the federal government, funding comes from cellphone carriers, who pass the costs on to customers through the universal service fee charge that many see on their monthly bills.
Thursday’s report is just the latest warning from the GAO, which is the government’s chief watchdog. Previous reports had warned the Obama administration the program was susceptible to double-dipping, and that the FCC didn’t even have a good yardstick to measure whether the program was meeting its goals.
The FCC had promised to make changes, but the new report says those have fallen short.
GAO investigators questioned whether the program is even needed anymore. The price of phones and service on many plans have dropped dramatically, making them affordable for nearly everyone, the GAO says. Investigators also found that without the free government phone, many recipients would gladly pay for the services on their own anyway.
In its official response, the FCC called the GAO’s report “thoughtful” and promised to try to clean up the program. It said it’s already taken steps to improve the situation.