The Department of Education’s (ED) Office of Inspector General (OIG) has issued new findings concerning duplications totaling $73 million in the awarding process for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), along with recommendations to prevent, identify, and correct grant awards.
In total the report found 25 duplicate awards made to 24 schools by ED. Eight of those institutions drew down their funds and it took the department between four and 16 months to recoup those draw downs.
Some of the issues concerned the application process and stemmed from a number of schools submitting two applications for the same HEERF subprogram, with OIG determining that the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocation table for the Student Aid Portion and Institutional Portion subprograms may have caused some confusion.
A second instance of institutions receiving duplicates in their award totals was due to ED processing duplicate HEERF awards under a single application.
In total, 16 of the 24 schools that were awarded duplicate HEERF grants did not draw down any of their over-allocated funding.
The awards were made through ED’s Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE), which said that due to the department’s HEERF review process having “evolved over time” there were instances of duplicative awards that were later identified and corrected.
“We found that OPE’s processes did not always prevent or timely identify and correct duplicate HEERF grant awards, and that OPE did not consistently document activities taken to correct duplicate awards,” OIG said. “Overall, OPE could improve its quality assurance review process for HEERF and other future emergency Federal education programs to lessen the risk of making overpayments to schools and of schools drawing down more funds than they were allocated.”
The report underscored the scope of the overpayments, which represent less than 0.1% of the more than 30,000 HEERF awards made by all three pandemic relief laws.
In response to OIG’s findings, OPE said it would continue to make improvements to quality control procedures to prevent, identify, correct, and document erroneous grant awards.
“Regarding OPE’s statement that Department officials were aware of all but one of the duplicate awards that we identified, we did not receive evidence showing when OPE became aware of the duplicate awards,” OIG said in response to the report. “As noted in our finding, OPE did not consistently document the existence of duplicate awards that it had identified. In addition, OPE corrected most of the 25 duplicate awards we had identified after we brought them to its attention.”
In order to prevent oversight in future relief programs, OIG recommended that OPE address its application and award verification, quality assurance reviews, as well as its correction and documentation of erroneous awards in a timely manner.
Publication Date: 6/15/2022