Seeking to buoy a strained rural economy in the midst of the recession, Congress ordered up a huge increase in federal mortgage guarantees for small-town home buyers as part of the 2009 economic stimulus package. The response from lenders was immediate. The value of federally backed rural home loans soared to $16.2 billion in fiscal 2009, up from just $3.7 billion two years earlier. Last year, the guarantees reached nearly $16.8 billion. Now, a newly released audit has found that the rural loan program, administered by the United States Department of Agriculture, was plagued by lax government oversight and many of the same sloppy banking practices that fed the broader mortgage debacle.