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GAO: Education Department Should Improve Oversight of Competitive Grants

By Alyson Klein — May 18, 2017 2 min read
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The U.S. Department of Education did not do a sufficient job of documenting its monitoring of key federal competitive grants, according to a report released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office.

As a result, about $21 million in federal grants from fiscal year 2015—when the Obama administration was still in charge—were missing correct documentation, the GAO found.(That’s a relatively small chunk of the department’s nearly $70 billion budget.) The Obama administration used federal competitive grants like Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation, Promise Neighborhoods, and more, to further its favorite policy ideas.

The GAO looked at a sample of 75 federal grants. And almost all of them—69—were incomplete in some way, according to the report. For example, more than 40 grants were missing notifications of grant awards. Nearly 50 were missing post-award conference reports. And more than 50 lacked performance reports. (See the chart from the GAO report below .)

The GAO report didn’t appear to single out any particular grant program in terms of oversight issues.

The department spent $700,000 on a grant performance management system, but didn’t develop guidance on how to use it. The department told the GAO it is rarely employed. The GAO is recommending that the department come up with some officials procedures and guidelines for using the system.

The Education Department agreed that it could do a better job of finding a consistent way to track grants across its various offices and agencies And it agreed that staffers might need more help using the grant management system.

But Joseph C. Conaty, who’s been delegated the duties of acting deputy secretary of education, said the department had the documentation necessary, even if it was not included in the official grant file. “Hence, no funds were at risk,” he wrote.

Still, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate education committee, found the report troubling.

“When taxpayers spent $4 billion on competitive grants administered by the Obama Administration’s Education Department in 2015, they expected proper oversight - to ensure the money was spent as intended and the results were measured,” Alexander said in a statement. “Today’s report shows us the department didn’t deliver. I hope Secretary DeVos will use this report as an opportunity to make some serious improvements at the department.”

Read the full GAO report.