Congressional Appropriators Take IES to Task

By Debra Viadero — December 15, 2009 1 min read
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Congressional appropriators took the Institute of Education Sciences out to the woodshed in the conference report on the education-spending measure for fiscal 2010.

The problem, according to the lawmakers, is that the research agency ignored nonbinding language in last year’s conference report that recommended capping spending on the What Works Clearinghouse to $8 million. Instead, the agency, in a revised budget justification to Congress earlier this year, called for boosting the clearinghouse’s allocation by more than a third.

Sue Betka, the institute’s deputy director for administration and policy, said the added funds were slated for developing a series of new research summaries on topics related to the Race to the Top Fund. The idea was to provide research guidance for educators and policymakers trying to figure out how best to allocate their stimulus dollars.

But the planned spending hike for the clearinghouse didn’t sit well with lawmakers. The institute has had a rocky relationship with Congressional appropriators, some of whom have long questioned whether the clearinghouse was a good use of taxpayer dollars. To make matters worse, the report says, requests for information from the agency “regularly come in later than most other agencies” and fail to clue Congress in on specific spending plans.

But Betka has an explanation for that, too. She said the institute tends not to assign specific dollar values to some of its competitive grant programs. That way, the agency can tailor the funding according to the number of high-quality proposals that come in, financing as few or as many as meet its standards.

The appropriators, nonetheless, had icy words for the agency. They wrote :

The conferees are concerned about actions taken by IES that leave the impression that it is not subject to the same level of oversight and accountability as any other agency of the Department that receives and is responsible for allocating appropriated funds."

You can find the full statement from the conferees here.

Well, you don’t thumb your nose at Congress and go unpunished. From now on, the conferees wrote, IES should provide quarterly reports describing planned research, development and dissemination activities and detailing how much it will spend on each one in addition to the usual reporting requirements.

This language, too, is nonbinding but Betka says the agency wants to work with the Hill in trying to honor it. “While we were surprised by the language,” she added, “this is not something that we would like to see happen again.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.