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Friday, January 07, 2011

Why are regulators and government employees ignoring requests from Congress?

A recent story noted how Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, plans to steer the committee’s work in the 112th Congress. In addition to identifying government barriers to job growth and economic recovery, Chairman Issa plans to close out old business. Over the past two years, he has sent letters to various federal departments, agencies and offices requesting information. This is called oversight. Many of the requests, however, have been ignored. So, according to, he has resent letters to those he has not yet heard back from. Apparently, and unfortunately, he's resent a lot of letters.

"Before we start something new, we want to get answers to the questions that have been ignored," said Kurt Bardella, Mr. Issa’s spokesperson, in the piece.

One bipartisan letter from Chairman Issa, also signed by Democrats Alcee Hastings (D–Fla.) and Carolyn McCarthy (D–New York) and Republicans John Kline (R–Minn.), Brett Guthrie (R– Kentucky) and Glenn Thompson (R–Penn), requested information about an August 4, 2010 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report whose initial findings were used in congressional hearings and the public domain to excoriate for-profit career colleges. The GAO issued an updated report on November 30 with substantially different findings (casting doubt on what they originally alleged were "deceptive" practices in the August 4 version) but did not alert the public to the revised report.

The damage, however, has already been done – regulations have been proposed that would severely harm these colleges. In addition, as noted by Chairman Issa’s letter: “After the Senate hearing and the accompanying GAO report, for-profit schools’ stock values plummeted nearly 14 percent, a $4.3 billion loss.”

At any rate, Chairman Issa and the other House members who requested information from the GAO by January 3, 2010 have not heard from the office.

(Read the full story in The Washington Examiner here:

As background, the Department of Education’s “Gainful Employment” rule -- the outcome of the GAO’s initial flawed study -- would deny federal financial aid to hundreds of thousands of students who attend for-profit career colleges. As noted by SBE Council in previous briefs and Op-Eds about the colleges, these institutions have been critical in adapting training and learning environments that meet the ever-changing needs of American business. They provide America’s workforce with critical skills to obtain better jobs.

Please remember that the GAO is the congressional watchdog. Its mission is to “provide Congress with timely information that is objective, fact-based, nonpartisan, nonideological, fair, and balanced.” Yet, there is still no response --to Congress -- as to whether an internal investigation is underway at GAO regarding the substantial revisions that were made to the August 4 report. To date, there are no explanations to any of the following questions posed by Chairman Issa and his colleagues:

1. Has GAO’s Office of the General Counsel (‘OGC’) examined or investigated the facts surrounding the need to revise the August 4, 2010 report? Please explain.

2. Has OGC reexamined the report’s conclusions to ensure that they accurately reflect the analysis contained in the report?

3. Has OGC verified the allegations that the methodology GAO used in the report is flawed and biased? Please explain what was found.

4. What are GAO’s procedures for revising a previously issued report? Please provide specific steps. Were these procedures followed in this instance?

5. Why is there no announcement from the release of the modified report on GAO’s web site?”

As the U.S. Department of Education and the Senate conducted slanted hearings using GAO report findings as the source of condemnation, for-profit career colleges were left to fend for themselves...fighting against a flawed and factually incorrect government report, while being pounded by the media and on Capitol Hill. Repeatedly and consistently, the findings in the report were cited as principal reasons for imposing intrusive regulations upon the for-profit career college sector.

According to GAO’s estimations, only 1 percent of reports are ever corrected. Hmmmm, then why not provide the reasons why this particular one was corrected? They have yet to address the letter much less answer the simple and direct questions of whether GAO followed set procedures in conducting the investigation, or whether, under pressure to deliver, cut corners and produced a flawed and inaccurate report. Seems like the GAO needs a little reforming.

Thank goodness Chairman Issa’s focus is to “get answers to the questions that have been ignored.”

Karen Kerrigan, President & CEO

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