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Advocates File Lawsuit Demanding Performance Plans from Scandal-Plagued Office of Federal Student Aid

Student Defense and American Oversight today filed a lawsuit in federal district court, demanding that the Department of Education disclose performance agreements, performance evaluations, and bonus payments to the Chief Operating Officer of Federal Student Aid (FSA). During Secretary DeVos’s tenure, FSA has been plagued by serious allegations of mismanagement, leading to their failure to serve student loan borrowers. The Office’s poor performance has led to significant harm to students as well as a federal judge finding DeVos in contempt for violating a court order. Today’s lawsuit comes after the Department refused to provide the documents in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

“The Office of Federal Student Aid has failed to serve students under Secretary DeVos, and things have only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Student Defense Chief Counsel Dan Zibel. “FSA’s failures during Secretary DeVos’s tenure have been stark and deeply troubling. Among its many failures, over the past few years FSA has illegally provided loans to students to attend unaccredited institutions, has unlawfully seized paychecks from tens of thousands of borrowers, and has presided over countless loan servicing failures. There is no question under the law: Secretary DeVos must evaluate FSA’s performance, and she must release that evaluation no matter how embarrassing it may be.”

"The Department of Education is required by law to release these performance agreements," said Austin Evers, executive director at American Oversight. "The fact that a lawsuit is required to get this administration to comply with basic systems of transparency and oversight shows just how committed they are to concealing their actions. That's not surprising from this administration, but it's illegal nonetheless."

The Higher Education Act requires the Secretary of Education and the Chief Operating Officer of FSA to enter into an annual performance agreement, “that shall set forth measurable organizational and individual goals for the Chief Operating Officer." The law requires the performance agreement to be made publicly available, and while the Department’s website does have the performance agreements for prior fiscal years, no such update has been posted since Secretary DeVos took charge.

The complaint filed today is available here.