Congressional Leaders Press ED, IRS for Briefing, More Information on Data Retrieval Tool Outage

By Allie Bidwell, Communications Staff

A bipartisan group of Congressional leaders on Thursday called on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to provide more information on the circumstances surrounding the IRS Data Retrieval Tool outage, and one lawmaker said he learned the tool is expected to be back up and running this month.

Leaders from the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, the House Committee on Oversight and Government and Reform, and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee sent letters to DeVos, and to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen nearly two weeks since the tool was taken offline by the IRS due to security concerns. NASFAA, along with several college access partners, on Tuesday also sent a letter to the Department of Education (ED), urging the Department to take immediate steps to ease application and verification burdens caused by the sudden outage of the tool.

Meanwhile, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) told The Wall Street Journal after meeting with Koskinen that the tool was taken down due to “criminal activity” and that the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration has opened an investigation. Doggett added that he was told the IRS is working to have the tool back up and functioning within the month.

The letter from House and Senate education leaders – signed by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) and Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) – asks DeVos to provide additional information about the “cause and scope of the outage and the steps the Department and the IRS will take to assist students and families that are impacted.” The lawmakers asked DeVos for a staff briefing on the issue to gather more information about the specific timeline of events “from the start of the outage to an estimated reinstatement date,” how ED is working to help students and parents affected by the outage, and how it will protect financial aid applicants’ data privacy during the outage.

The lawmakers asked for the briefing to occur before next Friday.

A separate letter signed by Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform similarly asks DeVos for a briefing, and responses to several questions regarding when exactly ED learned about the potential security threat, the scope of the information that might have been compromised, when ED first notified schools and stakeholders, and the population that might be affected, among other things.

“Millions of students applying for federal financial aid each year use the DRT, and a loss of functionality, even if confined to days or weeks, has the potential to cause significant disruptions,” the lawmakers wrote.

The letter to Koskinen – signed by the same group of representatives – also asks for a briefing as soon as possible, and answers to the same set of questions.

“The federal government has a responsibility to protect the personally identifiable information (PII) Americans entrust it with each day. The stakes are particularly high at the Department, an agency responsible for securing 139 million unique Social Security numbers and other sensitive information of students, parents and custodians across the country,” the lawmakers wrote. “The Department's ability to protect the information it collects, stores, and transmits is a cybersecurity concern that transcends the agency itself and has the potential to affect the security of our nation.”


Publication Date: 3/17/2017

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