The Kanawha County’s Marmet Branch Library was the focus of discussions at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday as lawmakers questioned West Virginia’s use of stimulus money to purchase routers.
During a congressional hearing, members of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology pulled out a picture of the library and asked why a $22,600 Internet router was purchased for the tiny library that has a single computer.
“The Market Public Library is open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays in a single wide trailer with one Internet connection,” said subcommittee chairman U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Oregon. “You really think that’s going to build out to where they have a need for a couple hundred internet connection router in a community of 1,500?”
Earlier this month, the West Virginia Legislative Auditor’s Office and the Department of Commerce found that West Virginia wasted at least $7.9 million and up to $15 million on the routers.
Questions were handed out to the Obama administration’s telecommunications chief, Lawrence Strickling, who defended West Virginia’s decision to buy the oversized routers with stimulus funds.
“I think it’s not at all clear from those reports that what West Virginia did was unreasonable in terms of it’s choice of a single platform Cisco router at the time they made it,” said Strickling, who heads the National Telecommunications & Information Administration.
Strickling said West Virginia based their purchase decision not only on what they would need now, but also on what they would need in the future.
Walden read Strickling portions of the Legislative Auditor’s report and pointed out that it was mentioned the state could have purchased smaller, less expensive routers for hundreds of sites.
Strickling said if they bought the smaller routers, the price difference wouldn’t have been much.
“We concluded a possible 2 to 5 percent savings had they used different routers, if they would have gotten a hundred free routers, which they got by buying the higher capacity gear, and if they had gotten the same level of discount,” said Strickling.
Strickling added that if they wouldn’t have gotten the free routers, the price of buying the smaller routers would have been the same as buying the larger routers.
Walden also pointed out to Strickling where the report mentioned how West Virginia circumvented its regular bid process and bought high-capacity Cisco 3945 series routers using a contract for Internet telephone service.
Strickling repeated several times that the subcommittee was confusing the capabilities of what the state was getting with the cost that they paid.
Wednesday’s hearing lasted for almost three hours on Capitol Hill and Walden had one suggestion for West Virginia and other states involved in this dilemma.
“If the money wasn’t suppose to be spent the way you spent it, the federal taxpayers deserve to have it all back,” said Walden.