The Houston Independent School District has agreed to relinquish millions of dollars in requests for federal funds and to pay a total of $850,000 as part of a civil settlement relating to allegations that the school district violated the False Claims Act in connection with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) E-Rate Program, the Justice Department recently announced.
The E-Rate program, which Congress created in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, provides funding for needy schools and libraries to connect to and utilize the Internet. Under the program, which is funded by fees collected from telephone users, schools apply for funds to pay for hardware and monthly connectivity service fees. The FCC oversees the E-Rate program.
The United States contended that the Houston Independent School District provided false information to the E-Rate program and otherwise violated the program’s requirements by engaging in non-competitive bidding practices for E-Rate contracts. The United States further alleged that school district officials received gratuities from technology vendors, including trips, meals and loans.
This settlement resolves a very interesting, novel False Claims Act case involving an FCC Program that has not received much attention prior to this lawsuit. This settlement could cause additional suits to be filed against other school districts, as the public beomes more aware of schemes in impacting this Program.