As part of an ongoing effort to track implementation of programs funded by the 2009 economic-stimulus package, the U.S. Department of Education’s inspector general has released a report highlighting 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—accountable for delays in responding to various requests. And, they questioned whether the department’s Office of Innovation and Improvement could handle any increasing workload.
That said, the auditors praised the Office of Innovation and Improvement and its program officers, overall, for regularly engaging with and monitoring the winners.
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.
This audit is not examining how the recipients of i3 grants used their money per se, 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 these officers can handle. So the auditors raised red flags about any future grant competitions (and department officials said they would pay close attention workload issues).
In fact, I asked U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan about issues of department capacity in an interview last week, especially given the furloughs that would likely result if automatic trigge- cuts from “sequestration” go through March 1. The department’s portfolio of grants is quite extensive, from i3 to Race to the Top to Promise Neighborhoods. And that’s not even counting the giant undertaking of monitoring waiver implementation of 34 states plus the District of Columbia—a list that will likely grow.
Duncan was relatively dismissive of my question, and said the focus of sequestration needed instead to be on the far larger impact from cuts to Title I, or special education. But the inspector general’s report, although limited to i3, would seem to suggest there might be similar capacity issues across the department.