Watchdog Finds ED Lacking a Decade’s Worth of Reporting on Experimental Site Initiative

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Senior Staff Reporter

For more than a decade the Department of Education (ED) has failed to provide Congress with more than a dozen Experimental Sites Initiative (ESI) reporting requirements, according to a report recently released by the department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG).

The documented lapse identified by OIG found that the department has not published a comprehensive ESI report since the 2010-11 award year.

During that time there have been 15 ESI experiments that have been implemented, including two active experiments — Second Chance Pell and Federal Work-Study — that began in 2015 and 2019, respectively.

Federal Student Aid (FSA) has been responsible for oversight of the ESI experiments since 1996, and requires participating institutions to submit outcomes data. Although FSA has been collecting the data from schools, ED has not submitted reports to Congress every two years as required by the Higher Education Act (HEA).

“While FSA has processes to collect data on ESI experiments annually from participating schools via surveys and web-based reporting tools, FSA has not used any data that may have been reported by schools to prepare and submit the required reports to Congress, except for the report published in 2020 that covered only one experiment,” the OIG report determined.

OIG also found FSA has not made it a priority to comply with the ESI reporting requirements and has not been held accountable for doing so.

According to OIG’s report, ESI team members identified several potential reasons for why reports were not produced as required, which included resource limitations, restructurings, and inaction of senior managers.

In order to prevent such a lapse from continuing OIG recommended that Congress consider placing limits on ED’s ability to implement any new experiments under the ESI until it complies with the applicable reporting requirements.

Richard Cordray, FSA’s chief operating officer, in response to the report said that some ESI initiatives did not have adequate plans for data collection and evaluation.

“Despite substantial improvements in experiment design and implementation since 2011,when the Department began to modify the design of the experiments to produce more valuable policy information, the reports and analysis the Department has produced often have been of limited utility,” Cordray wrote in response to the report. “During this timeframe, given that the reports would have yielded little information of value, the Department did not provide such reports to the authorizing committees.”

As a part of the review, FSA committed to OIG that by Dec. 31, 2022 it would publish and provide Congress with a comprehensive report on the ESI that will address experiments since the 2010-1111 award year report and will continue to publish annually a similar comprehensive report consistent with statutory requirements.


Publication Date: 11/14/2022

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