Lawmakers must hold aid office accountable

    It is far past due for Congress to address the serious problems plaguing the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid. In its mandate to allow low-income students to attend college, the office is clearly failing, as a new report by the American Council on Education shows that only half of all likely eligible undergraduates apply for federal aid at all.

    The organization is responsible for serving as a central clearinghouse that coordinates deadlines and streamlines the aid application process; that more than half of all applicants complete their applications after the deadline to receive the full amount of aid to which they are entitled is overwhelming evidence of the agency’s colossal organizational breakdown.

    Additionally, the agency’s budget requests in past years have underestimated the support necessary for the Pell Grant program by billions of dollars, resulting in the agency borrowing from future years’ budgets and threatening the program’s ability to fulfill its mandate in the coming years.

    In 1998, Congress designed the Office of Federal Student Aid as a “performance-based organization,” a title that provides flexibility for the agency but demands accountability of its officials. Despite the mandate, a new report from the Government Accountability Office shows, the agency has left student aid programs vulnerable to “fraud, waste and abuse.”

    It’s time for lawmakers to hold the agency accountable. Like any organization facing an institutional failure, the leadership of the student aid office must be overhauled.

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