Six Investigates continues to push federal regulators for answers after several of our investigations exposed fraud in the government subsidized cell phone program called Lifeline.
It's been one year, five months and 16 days since our investigative team first exposed fraud in the program, costing Americans billions of dollars. Since then we have been demanding answers from the feds, and now there is some progress to report.
In the summer of 2012, tents started popping up all over Oklahoma offering free cell phones for the poor. But as we exposed over and over, cell phone companies were breaking the rules, fraudulently assigning multiple phones to one person, collecting huge government checks for each one.
They also collected checks for phones given to people who weren't poor and didn't qualify for Lifeline. Cell phone companies made millions, and many still are.
But the Federal Communications Commission believes it's finally got a grasp on Lifeline fraud with a new database. It's called NLAD, the National Lifeline Accountability Database, and now, almost all cell phone companies are using it to enroll their Lifeline subscribers, and to check for existing fraudulent accounts.
Oklahoma Congressman James Lankford has been working with regulators, pushing them to get Oklahoma in the database quickly. He updated us in December with a claim that the database would eliminate millions of dollars in waste by February.
That deadline has passed and, so far, federal regulators say they still don't know how much waste the database has caught. But Lankford said he's pleased with the progress.
"I feel like, for the first time in a while, we're actually making progress. Things are actually occurring. We've complained about this, we've worked with the FCC, we've tried to be able to push in every way that we possibly can to be able to get reforms," Lankford said.
According to Lankford, the FCC has started to clear duplicate and fraudulent accounts, but it still hasn't said how it will verify future Lifeline customers are qualified for the program before they get a phone.
"This is not over yet by far. There is still a tremendous amount of waste in the program," said Lankford. We're finally getting some verification systems in place to start dealing with this. For a long time the federal government and the FCC has just ignored it. Everyone knew that we were being ripped off as a taxpayer, but no one wanted to do the hard work to actually delete out these duplicate numbers and delete out the fraud."
Now, the FCC says we will know in 45 days how many people were defrauding the system in Oklahoma and exactly how much it's costing us. It's on our calendar.