oversight

an update on the status of financial management at the Department of Education, before the Subcommittee on Select Education, Committee on Education and the Workforce, United States House of Representatives, April 10, 2002. MS Word

Published by the Department of Education, Office of Inspector General on 2002-04-10.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report.

Statement of Lorraine Lewis
Inspector General
Department of Education

Before the
Subcommittee on Select Education

Committee on Education and the Workforce

United States House of Representatives

April 10, 2002


Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for the opportunity to provide an update on the status of financial management at the Department of Education (the Department) from the Office of Inspector General (OIG) perspective.  Today, I will provide:  1) an overview of the results of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2001 financial statements audits, and related recommendations, 2) an update on OIG work in purchase cards, third-party drafts, and other internal control areas and recommendations related to that work, and 3) an update on investigative activity. 

I look forward to continuing to work together with the Congress and Secretary Paige to ensure that Department programs and operations serve the nation’s students and taxpayers with efficiency, effectiveness, and integrity.





	RESULTS OF THE FY 2001 DEPARTMENT-WIDE FINANCIAL STATEMENTS AUDIT


We have identified financial management on our list of management challenges of the Department for the past three years.  The benefits of sound financial management are two-fold.  First, sound financial management allows managers to make decisions based on reliable financial information.  Second, sound financial management ensures the basic trust between a government agency and the public remains intact.

The Department has made, and continues to make, progress in this area.  Last April, the Secretary created a Management Improvement Team (MIT) to focus attention on long-standing financial management issues.  The MIT’s mandate included such goals as addressing outstanding recommendations related to the financial statement audits and other audits from the OIG and the General Accounting Office (GAO), ensuring an environment with effective internal controls, and removing federal student aid programs from the GAO High Risk List.  The MIT’s October 2001 report, Blueprint for Management Excellence (Blueprint), includes impressive corrective action items for improving the Department’s programs and operations.  The Secretary has made it clear to Departmental managers that financial management must improve and has established an Executive Management Team to lead this effort.  Two key players in this effort are the recently confirmed Chief Financial Officer and the Assistant Secretary for Management.  This focused attention by Department officials is key to continual progress.   

The audit of the Department’s financial statements for FY 2001 was conducted by Ernst & Young, LLP.  My office monitored progress and completion of the work to ensure the audit complied with Government Auditing Standards, issued by the Comptroller General of the United States.  Once again, we commend Ernst & Young on the professional manner in which it conducted this audit.  Copies of the auditors’ reports are available on our web site at http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oig/areports.html.  This is the first year that Office of Management and Budget (OMB) guidance required comparative financial statements be prepared and audited.  Comparative financial statements present the current year’s financial information alongside previous years’ financial information.  The Securities and Exchange Commission has had a long-standing requirement for private sector companies to report and audit comparatively.  Comparative information provides the public with more information with which to assess the operations and financial condition of the reporting entity.  




Financial Statement Opinion

For the second year in a row, the Department received a qualified opinion on all five financial statements.  


Report on Internal Controls

The 2001 Report on Internal Control details certain matters that are considered to be material weaknesses and reportable conditions under professional standards.  There is one material weakness--financial management systems and financial reporting.  There are three reportable conditions--1) financial reporting related to credit reform, 2) information systems’ controls, and 3) reporting and monitoring of property and equipment.  This is an improvement from the FY 2000 audit that disclosed three material weaknesses and two reportable conditions.  The following is a description of the results for FY 2001.  

	Material Weakness:	

Financial Management Systems and Financial Reporting (modified repeat condition).  While progress has been made, the absence of a fully integrated financial management system and limitations in the process for preparing and analyzing interim and final financial statements hinders the Department’s ability to accumulate, analyze, and present reliable financial information.  The Department has implemented a replacement of the general ledger software package in an effort to address some of these problems.    

	Reportable Conditions:
	
	Financial Reporting Related to Credit Reform (modified repeat condition).
Credit reform issues are complex and require an effective management control structure to ensure appropriate financial presentation.  The Department needs to strengthen its credit reform reporting by improving:  monitoring and analysis of the underlying financial activity of its credit programs; systems, policies, and procedures to streamline the process for preparing credit reform disclosures; and coordination of the various Department offices that oversee and account for the credit reform activity.

	Information Systems’ Controls (modified repeat condition).  During fiscal year 2001, the Department has made progress in strengthening controls over information technology processes.  However, continued effort is needed to further address control weaknesses identified by OIG, GAO, and the Department itself related to information technology and systems.  

	Reporting and Monitoring of Property and Equipment (modified repeat condition).  The Department needs to ensure that it can adequately account for its assets.  By developing and implementing Department-wide policies and procedures, it could track and safeguard property and equipment.  Prior to implementing the department-wide policies, the Department must first reconcile discrepancies between annual physical inventories and internal records.  


Report on Compliance with Laws and Regulations 

The 2001 Report on Compliance with Laws and Regulations disclosed no instances of noncompliance with laws and regulations.  As part of this work, the auditors are also required to report whether the Department’s financial management systems substantially comply with certain financial system requirements referred to in the Federal Financial Management Improvement Act of 1996 (FFMIA).  The auditors noted two instances of noncompliance with the system requirements referred to in FFMIA--deficiencies in the general ledger system and the manual adjustment process, and deficiencies in systems security.


Status of Recommendations

One area that we have reported on in the past is the status of recommendations from the previous Reports on Internal Control.  From FY 1995 through FY 2000, there were a total of 160 recommendations.  One mission of the MIT and continuing with the Executive Management Team, is to address those recommendations.  Of the 160 total, 155 are now closed.  The recommendations contained in the audits of FY 1995 though FY 1998 are now closed.  The audit of the FY 1999 financial statements contained 25 recommendations; all are closed except a recommendation regarding reconciliation.  The audit of the FY 2000 financial statements contained 21 recommendations.  Four remain open:  information systems, reconciliation, reporting and monitoring of property and equipment, and credit reform accounting and monitoring.  

The audit of the FY 2001 financial statements included 14 recommendations.  The 14 recommendations were in the following areas:  six in financial management systems and reporting, five in financial reporting related to credit reform, two in reporting and monitoring of property and equipment, and one related to information systems.  The Department is preparing corrective actions plans for these recommendations.  


Challenges Ahead

In the audit cycle for FY 2002, the Department faces three critical issues relating to the FY 2002 financial statements.  First, the overall time to prepare and audit the Department’s financial statements has been shortened by one month.  OMB guidance requires FY 2002 performance and accountability reports to be issued to OMB and Congress by February 1, 2003.  Second, OMB guidance requires interim financial statements.  Unaudited financial statements are to be submitted to OMB by May 31, for the six-month period ending March 31, 2002.  Finally, the Department will be using a new general ledger system to prepare its FY 2002 financial statements.  Implementing and using a new system frequently results in additional challenges.


Implementation of Oracle Federal Financials System


In January 2002, the Department replaced its existing general ledger system with Oracle Federal Financials.  We have completed audits of the development and implementation of the new system.  The Department generally did not agree with the deficiencies we identified in testing, training, security, and development.  The Blueprint identified Oracle implementation as a major goal, and the Department has planned steps to address shortcomings in the system.  Post-implementation shortcomings may be identified by the independent verification and validation contractor the Department has engaged and continued testing by the Department.  Of particular importance is the interface between the Department’s Oracle system and the systems containing critical data from the office of Federal Student Aid (FSA).





	UPDATE ON OIG INTERNAL CONTROLS WORK AND RECOMMENDATIONS 


Strong internal controls are essential to the integrity of the Department’s programs and operations.  Our audits, inspections, and reviews have examined a number of internal controls issues and have resulted in recommendations for improvement.  Our investigations also focus on areas where there is risk of fraud and abuse due to weak internal controls.   In addition, GAO’s oversight work has provided important findings and recommendations relating to questionable third-party drafts, purchase cards, and Pell grant disbursements, for example.  Given the scope of the Department’s programs and operations, and the amount of federal funds involved, GAO’s work in identifying fraud and improper payments has provided invaluable supplemental resources to our oversight efforts.  We have supported its efforts and shared our work with GAO.

The Secretary has made an effective system of internal controls a top priority.  The Blueprint contains plans to strengthen the control environment in the Department.  The Secretary has also spoken to all Department employees about the importance of having a culture of accountability, convened a Department-wide group to foster this culture throughout the entire Department, and charged his Executive Management Team to lead this effort.  Recently, he required that all Department employees must complete on-line internal controls training by April 30, 2002.  In addition, OIG representatives have provided advice on internal controls training for managers and supervisors conducted by the Department.

Our reports have identified weaknesses in controls over purchase cards, third-party drafts, cellular phones, the contract payment process, and government equipment, for example.  Although the Department has made progress by eliminating the use of third party drafts, as one example, more improvements are needed.  




Travel Cards

We have recently completed an audit of travel card use.  Current Department policy requires all employees who travel more than once a year to apply for an individually billed travel card.  We found that:  cardholders made purchases and ATM withdrawals for personal use, made excessive ATM withdrawals, and did not always use their cards when required.  We referred the cases of employees who used cards improperly to their principal offices for appropriate administrative action.  Our investigators are examining cases where there was evidence of possible fraudulent activity.  We recommended several changes to address these deficiencies including implementation of guidelines to monitor travel card activity, employee training, and immediate cancellation of cards held by persons who left the Department.  Based on our findings, the Department has initiated several corrective actions to address our recommendations; more corrective actions are planned.


Purchase Cards

In 2000, at the Department’s request, we reviewed its internal controls over the use of purchase cards.  We found that, while the Department had established procedures to ensure the financial integrity of the purchase card program, these procedures were not always current and were not always followed.  We reviewed and tested controls in each principal office.  At the conclusion of each review, we met with the head of the office and discussed results and actions he or she should take to improve controls.  We also issued a capping report to the then Deputy Secretary with 22 recommendations to strengthen the control environment, provide an assessment of internal and external risks, strengthen control activities, strengthen information and communication over the use of cards, and strengthen monitoring over card use.  The Department established 27 action items to address our recommendations, and these items have all been closed. 

We recently completed a follow-up audit on controls over purchase cards.  We found that while the Department has taken action to address the internal control weaknesses identified in prior OIG reviews over purchase cards, more improvements are needed to discourage abuse of these cards.  We recommended the Department develop internal control review guidelines and conduct on-site internal controls reviews (reviews conducted at locations where the purchase card activity and approval are performed).  We also recommended that the Department reassess the number of cardholders assigned to each approving official. 

The Department concurred with our recommendations and has planned steps to address these recommendations.  The Office of the Chief Financial Officer (OCFO) has developed guidelines to conduct testing of purchase card transactions both on-site and through documentation submission.  The OCFO also advised us that it will continue to work with program offices to realign approving officials and cardholders to a manageable level.  Finally, the OCFO apprised us that it will require training for newly appointed approving officials.
Based on our experience inspecting and auditing the Department’s purchase card program, we volunteered to develop a guide for use by auditors and inspectors in conducting reviews of an agency’s government purchase card program.  We plan to distribute the guide throughout the Inspector General community by the end of this month.


Records Management

The maintenance of records is essential to a good internal control environment.  Records provide the necessary documentation needed to support decisions, be they policy decisions or financial decisions.  The Federal Records Act requires federal agencies “make and preserve records containing adequate and proper documentation of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and essential transactions of the agency.”  There are also other laws that address records management requirements for both paper and electronic records, such as the Paperwork Reduction Act, the Freedom of Information Act, and the Government Paperwork Elimination Act.  Because of the importance of records management, we have also examined the Department’s electronic and paper record management policies and procedures.  We found that records liaison officers lacked appropriate records management training, and that principal offices are not disposing of records properly.  We recommended that the Department develop more specific records management guidance and policies, provide additional records management training, and determine whether principal offices are using proper storage facilities.

The Department developed a corrective action plan to address our recommendations.  One of fourteen action items, development of a records management training program, has been closed to date.  We will continue to monitor the Department’s records management program.


Contract Monitoring

We recently completed an audit of the Department’s controls over government property provided under FSA contracts.  We evaluated controls at three FSA contractors and found that these contractors were not appropriately accounting for government property.  Specifically, we found that contractor records were inaccurate and incomplete, equipment was not properly identified, and some purchases were not utilized and disposed of on a timely basis.  

We recommended that FSA develop and implement a plan for monitoring government property that includes a clear definition of responsibilities, reconciliation of purchases of government property with contractor records, and compliance with Federal Acquisitions Regulation requirements.  The Department concurred with our findings and recommendations.

Information Technology Security
Another component of internal controls is strong information technology (IT) security.  As more of the Department’s programs rely on automated processes, it becomes more critical that the Department’s systems are capable of ensuring the availability, confidentiality, and integrity of the data they contain.  The information systems used to administer government funds should be secure from unauthorized access, intrusion, disruption, and loss.  The importance of IT security is also heightened by the mandate to expand electronic government contained in the President’s Management Agenda.



The Department has recognized the importance of IT security and has initiated a number of actions to strengthen security.  The Blueprint focused on better management of information technology and set specific goals and timetables for strengthening IT security.  The Department also identified over 600 security weaknesses and indicated that it corrected more than 120 of these weaknesses.  In addition, the Office of the Chief Information Officer has conducted two security day events designed to increase security awareness throughout the Department.

Federal Student Aid Programs
In federal student aid programs, our work and the GAO’s has also revealed the need for better internal controls in the area of accurate data exchange among the systems that operate these programs.  During GAO’s work on improper payments, it referred to our office seven schools, two of which we were already investigating, which seemed to have a high percentage of Pell Grant recipients over age 70.  Those investigations are still pending.  

We are also involved in data-mining activities by looking at data in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and records in the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS).  The FAFSA is the vehicle used by the Department for applicants applying for federal student aid.  NSLDS data is submitted from a number of sources:  guaranty agencies, Pell grant program, schools, and debt collections.   It is critical that this data is valid, reliable, and timely.  

We previously performed audit work on overawards of federal student aid by negotiating a matching agreement with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  For that audit, we matched income reported on the FAFSA to income reported to the IRS.  Based on our results, we recommended, and the Department concurred, that it match income data provided on the FAFSA with IRS data to help prevent overawards of student aid funds.  The Higher Education Act Amendments of 1998 provided some authority for the verification of income.  The Department has performed two sample matches with IRS, and continues to work with IRS and OMB to address further legislative changes for a permanent match.  This legislative authority is requested in the President’s FY 2003 budget request.  We recommend that Congress pass such legislation.  

The need for this match was again highlighted in March 2001 when, in just one investigation, 26 people were charged with fraudulently obtaining more than $2.6 million from the Department in the form of grants, work-study, and loans.  To date, 25 people have pled guilty.  Our work in these cases also led to over $2.8 million in civil settlements and judgments.  A data match of income information with IRS might have prevented these ineligible awards.

While no set of internal controls can guarantee that mistakes will not happen or persons intent on committing fraud will not succeed, we continue to recommend that greater program monitoring and enforcement should be done by FSA to protect the integrity of the programs.  Last year, we issued three audit reports that cited significant deficiencies in FSA’s oversight of schools in the areas of program reviews, tracking and resolving audit recommendations, and recertifying foreign schools.  Corrective actions are not yet completed on these audits.  We recently issued an audit report that found FSA had not sufficiently monitored the financial responsibility of schools.  We also audit higher education institutions directly.  We have recommended that FSA take the necessary actions to address compliance problems at schools that we have audited, including seeking repayment of funds where appropriate.  These reports and others may be found on our website:  http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oig/.

Our work also continues to show that the Federal Family Education Loan Program is vulnerable to fraud when individuals who claim to be enrolled in a foreign school are not actually enrolled.  We have recommended that FSA require a verification of the borrower’s enrollment in a foreign school prior to disbursement of federal funds.  


	UPDATE ON CERTAIN OIG INVESTIGATIONS 

We are nearing completion of several investigations of criminal activity involving Department employees and others.  We will continue to work with the FBI, the Department, GAO, and others to seek prosecution of criminal actions and to deter others from seeking to defraud the Department.


Telecommunications Case

Since 1999, we have been conducting an investigation of a major fraud scheme involving 19 individuals, including eight Department employees.  Elizabeth Mellen, the contracting officer representative for a contract the Department had with Bell Atlantic, ordered numerous items for her personal use and for the use of several family members, some of whom were Department employees.  She also fraudulently authorized overtime pay to a Bell Atlantic (now Verizon) and a Lucent Technology technician.  Ms. Mellen’s actions, and those of others, defrauded the government of more than $300,000 in property including computers, printers, scanners, cordless phones, and a 61-inch television.  In addition, more than $700,000 in false overtime was charged to the Department. 

To date, 15 defendants, including seven Department employees, have pled guilty, and one individual went to trial on this wide-ranging conspiracy and was recently found guilty of three charges--one count of conspiracy and two counts of theft of government property.  The remaining three defendants are scheduled to go on trial later this year.


Impact Aid

Last year, three individuals were indicted for conspiring to illegally receive, conceal, and retain stolen property using $1.9 million in Impact Aid funds.  In January 2002, two of these individuals were arrested; we are working with the FBI to locate and arrest the third individual.  Our efforts to date resulted in the return of approximately $1.7 million in Impact Aid program funds to the Department.  


Puerto Rico

We have extensive investigative and audit work involving the Puerto Rico Department of Education.  We found that the Puerto Rico Department of Education (PRDE) awarded five Title I fixed-price contracts to National School Services of Puerto Rico without full and open competition.  PRDE also did not determine each line item of cost included in the fixed-price contract.  For this reason, PRDE and the Department could not be assured that the highest quality services and products were received at competitive prices or whether certain vendors were given preferential treatment or arbitrarily excluded.  Moreover, resources used to pay unreasonable amounts could have been used for other projects or for learning centers at needy elementary schools, as provided for the terms of the contract.

Our subsequent investigation of the Puerto Rico Department of Education led to the indictment and arrests of 17 individuals, including the former Secretary of Education for Puerto Rico, for several felony charges including extortion, program fraud and money laundering.  The indictment alleged that defendants conspired to extort more than $4.3 million from contractors.  These defendants were taking money for their personal use and were providing money to their political party.  Guilty pleas by the former Secretary of Education for Puerto Rico, Associate Secretary of Education, a contractor who is a relative of the former Secretary, and another contractor provided for a $2.9 million forfeiture--$1.3 million in cash and $1.6 million in property and cash-- to the U.S. Government. 


Purchase Cards

Our ongoing investigation related to fraudulent purchase card use recently led to guilty pleas by two employees of a private furniture vendor, Aaron Rents.  These individuals conspired with a Department employee and facilitated the use of a government credit card to purchase household furniture for the personal use.  The charging documents stated the vendor’s employees concealed the true nature of these purchases by falsely invoicing the government for the purchases of office furniture.  

Our work will continue to reflect our commitment to promoting the efficiency, effectiveness, and integrity of the Department’s programs and operations.  


This concludes my statement.  I would be happy to answer any questions that you may have.


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