Federal

Department’s No. 3 Leaving Cleaner Financial House

By Michelle R. Davis — December 13, 2005 4 min read

The Department of Education, whose checkered management record has spanned much of the agency’s history and included employee theft of funds and uncollected student-loan debts, has made steady progress in shoring up its operations, according to federal and outside evaluators.

Some of the credit is going to Undersecretary Edward R. McPherson, the department’s No. 3 official, who has overseen such efforts since his arrival from the Department of Agriculture in April 2004. He said in an interview last week that the department has made significant leaps in creating strong management systems. The last few department audits done by private accounting firms have been clean, he noted.

BRIC ARCHIVE

The federal student-aid office, the arm of the Education Department that operates the massive program of financial assistance for college, was removed earlier this year from a “high risk” list compiled by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

“The results are real, and they’re hugely valuable,” said Mr. McPherson, who will be leaving the department Dec. 31. He has not decided whether he’ll stay in public service or return to the private sector. Before his joined the Bush administration in 2001, Mr. McPherson served as the chief executive of InterSolve Group, a Dallas management-consulting firm he founded.

Upon taking office nearly five years ago, President Bush and first-term Secretary of Education Rod Paige both stressed a need for improved management practices, in the federal government overall and specifically in the Education Department.

At the time, the department was reeling from scandals in which some employees had been charged with filing for false overtime payments and spending department funds for personal luxury goods. The student-aid office, which has $400 billion in assets and some 22 million customers, was widely considered to be in management disarray.

The situation was “really unacceptable,” said Patricia McGinnis, the president of the Council for Excellence in Government, a Washington-based organization of former federal managers. “I don’t think you can separate financial management from other elements of successful management,” she said.

Mr. Paige put then-Deputy Secretary William D. Hansen in charge of making improvements. Mr. Hansen brought in Ms. McGinnis’ organization, which served as an adviser in the process. At the end of 2001, the department released a blueprint for overhauling its management system. (“Report: Ed. Dept. Financial Steps Will Halt Abuses,” Nov. 7, 2001.)

Some of the goals outlined included new internal measures to keep track of the department’s mandatory and discretionary funds, which totaled $71.5 billion in the 2005 fiscal year, and a more aggressive approach to collecting on defaulted student loans. In 2003, the department received a clean audit—only the second since it began operations in 1981.

“We think the results are very good so far,” Ms. McGinnis said. “But this is an everyday challenge. You can’t ever declare victory.”

Mr. McPherson said in the Dec. 8 interview that the Education Department’s “operating effectiveness has never been better.”

When he came to the department from a stint as the chief financial officer at the Agriculture Department, he used his own managemen techniques to build on what had already been accomplished, he said. That included working within a new organizational structure established earlier this year by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, Mr. Paige’s successor. (“Spellings Puts Her Stamp on Department,” March 15, 2005.)

From Red to Green

Mr. McPherson, 60, said he’s tried to focus on results for students and for taxpayers and to push federal officials to take ownership of the programs they oversee by holding them accountable for results. He also said he pushed for operations to run “at a constructively aggressive pace.”

“We want to get to the essence of what is valuable and cut the time it takes to execute it,” he said. “You get better outcomes with shorter cycle times.”

Though the department has consistently improved according to President Bush’s management scorecard, which rates federal agencies on various criteria, there are some categories in which the department has scored “yellow,” meaning it has had mixed results, rather than the highest rating, green.

And there is one category in which the department has continually scored red, meaning it has failed to meet the program’s goals. Though the department received a grade of green for incremental progress in “eliminating improper payments,” it hasn’t achieved all of its goals in that area so its overall status on the scorecard remains red.

Mr. McPherson said one piece of advice he would provide to his successor, who hasn’t been named, is simple: “Focus on those things that really have the biggest value, and be bold in taking effective action. There’s more risk in not being bold enough than in being too bold.”

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Making Digital Literacy a Priority: An Administrator’s Perspective
Join us as we delve into the efforts of our panelists and their initiatives to make digital skills a “must have” for their district. We’ll discuss with district leadership how they have kept digital literacy
Content provided by Learning.com
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How Schools Can Implement Safe In-Person Learning
In order for in-person schooling to resume, it will be necessary to instill a sense of confidence that it is safe to return. BD is hosting a virtual panel discussing the benefits of asymptomatic screening
Content provided by BD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
How Districts Are Centering Relationships and Systemic SEL for Back to School 21-22
As educators and leaders consider how SEL fits into their reopening and back-to-school plans, it must go beyond an SEL curriculum. SEL is part of who we are as educators and students, as well as
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Miguel Cardona: Schools Must Work to Win Trust of Families of Color as They Reopen
As Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona announced new school reopening resources, he encouraged a focus on equity and student engagement.
4 min read
Education Secretary nominee Miguel Cardona testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee during his confirmation hearing Feb. 3, 2021.
Now-U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee during his confirmation hearing in February.
Susan Walsh/AP
Federal CDC: Nearly 80 Percent of K-12, Child-Care Workers Have Had at Least One COVID-19 Shot
About four out of five teachers, school staffers, and child-care workers had first COVID-19 vaccine doses by the end of March, CDC says.
2 min read
John Battle High School teacher Jennifer Daniel receives her COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 11, 2021. Teachers received their first vaccine during an all-day event at the Virginia Highlands Higher Education Center in Abingdon, Va.
John Battle High School teacher Jennifer Daniel receives her COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 11at the Virginia Highlands Higher Education Center in Abingdon, Va.
David Crigger/Bristol Herald Courier via AP
Federal Ed. Dept. to Review Title IX Rules on Sexual Assault, Gender Equity, LGBTQ Rights
The review could reopen a Trump-era debate on sexual assault in schools, and it could spark legal discord over transgender student rights.
4 min read
Symbols of gender.
iStock/Getty
Federal Q&A EdWeek Q&A: Miguel Cardona Talks Summer Learning, Mental Health, and State Tests
In an interview after a school reopening summit, the education secretary also addressed teachers' union concerns about CDC guidance.
10 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during a press briefing at the White House on March 17, 2021.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona speaks during a press briefing at the White House on March 17.
Andrew Harnik/AP