April 07, 2017

Senators Raise Concerns About DOD Oversight of Colleges Receiving Tuition Assistance Funds

Text of the letter is available here (PDF)

Washington, D.C. - Today, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Richard Blumenthal (D.-Conn.) sent a letter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis raising concerns with the Department of Defense's (DoD) recently announced policy to ensure regulatory compliance by educational institutions that receive DoD Tuition Assistance (TA) funds to educate women and men of the armed services. 

In the letter, the senators asked Secretary Mattis to clarify the methodology used to audit these institutions, to determine whether the new plan contains proper deterrents against potential misconduct, and if there is a risk of a conflict of interest by the accounting firm performing the audits.

"While we appreciate the institution of any compliance structure given the lack of a current one, and the inclusion of student outcomes and complaints in the methodology, substantial questions remain regarding how DoD intends to protect service members from predatory actors in higher education," wrote the senators.

The senators further questioned the department's decision to outsource oversight of the program, citing a 2014 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that concluded DoD's previous use of a third-party contractor "did not provide the agency the information it needed to assess schools." The senators also raised concerns about conflicts of interest related to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the firm suggested for this contract. Under DoD's proposed policy, PwC could be responsible for oversight and ensuring regulatory compliance of schools that the company has previously provided with auditing services.  Some of these current or former PwC clients have been sued or investigated for violating laws protecting students.

"Given the troubling history of abuses by predatory schools that take advantage of service members to obtain their TA and GI Bill funds, we believe it is critical that DoD remain committed to fully enforcing rules meant to protect service members from wasting their hard-earned TA funds at schools that will either bury them in unnecessary student debt or inadequately prepare them for the workforce," wrote the senators.

The full text of the letter can be found here.