The Lifeline program is the US government’s way of providing subsidized mobile phones to America’s poorer citizens. Despite the good intentions, the program is regularly attacked as being mired in fraud and waste, as talkRA has covered before. The political nature of the criticism is illustrated by how the Lifeline mobile phones are now commonly referred to as ‘Obamaphones’ even though the extension of the Lifeline program to provide mobile services occurred whilst George W. Bush was in office. But very straightforward investigative journalism continues to highlight stories about corruption and abuse.
In particular, there is a common trend where communications providers have lax controls over the supply of Lifeline phones, handing phones to people who do not qualify for them. This story from the National Review Online covers yet another example of how easy it is for an individual to obtain multiple subsidized phones, in clear contravention of the scheme’s rules. Part of the blame lies with government, for exercising inadequate oversight. However, the failures of the Lifeline program also illustrate how the private sector can easily become prone to waste, if it adopts an approach of incentivizing some staff to maximize ‘sales’, whilst failing to implement controls to prevent abuse.