In its effort to track implementation of programs funded by the 2009 economic-stimulus package, the U.S. Department of Education’s inspector general has reported potential problems with federal oversight of Investing in Innovation grants.
Auditors specifically questioned whether the Education Department held some grant recipients—including Teach For America and Johns Hopkins University, which got $50 million and $30 million, respectively—accountable for delays in responding to various requests. And they questioned whether the department’s office of innovation and improvement could handle an increased workload.
That said, the auditors praised the office and its program officers overall for regularly engaging with and monitoring the winners—which were collectively awarded $650 million in 2010.
Department officials responded to the auditors, according to the report, by maintaining that the program officers were in constant communication with grant recipients over delays and did not find the delays to be significant. The department, however, said it would standardize its response to delays and provide more clear documentation about them in grant files.
The audit did not examine how i3 grant recipients used their money, but how the department is doing handling implementation and oversight.
Each of the department’s nine program officers handles eight grants, and an office of innovation and improvement official said that’s about the maximum that the officers can handle. The auditors raised red flags about any future grant competitions (and department officials said they would pay close attention to workload issues).
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was asked more generally about department capacity during a round-table discussion with national reporters last week. The department’s portfolio of grants is quite extensive, from i3 to Race to the Top to Promise Neighborhoods. And that’s not counting the monitoring of waivers granted to states from provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act.
Mr. Duncan seemed to deflect discussion of oversight capacity, instead taking the opportunity to warn about the potential impact on the department from the continuing federal budget crisis.
A version of this article appeared in the March 06, 2013 edition of Education Week as Ed. Dept. Chided on ‘i3' Oversight