Cortney O'Brien

More oversight in the nation’s capital. The District of Columbia's Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG) program, intended to help students and families pay for college, providing up to $50,000 a year to students who attend eligible schools, has failed to account for millions of taxpayer dollars:

Congress has allocated between $17 million and $35 million a year for the program and at least $30 million annually since 2006. But according to the audit, TAG officials could not document or explain nearly $10 million in expenses since 2004.

A few more specifics from the revealing audit:

Most of the uncertainty stems from two charges to TAG for which no explanation could be found, according to the audit by F.S. Taylor and Associates, a District-based CPA firm. More than $5 million in TAG funds was used for unknown purposes in fiscal 2004, the audit says, and $4 million in TAG funds was used to pay for “administrative contracts” in fiscal 2008, exceeding the program’s cap on allowable administrative costs.

So, in other words, what could have been a worthy initiative has turned into a Grade A scandal. Since TAG began in 2000, more than $317 million has gone to help more than 20,000 students pay for college. The aid is specifically saved for families who have incomes under $1 million a year and students who attend public schools outside the city, private schools in the D.C. region and historically black colleges. But, the endless amount of embarrassing revelations are leaving many to wonder if the program deserves its federal funding:

Agency staff decide whether students receiving TAG funds are D.C. residents and eligible for the money, but there is no routine quality-control mechanism to review those decisions, auditors found. And there is no regular reconciliation between the software the OSSE uses to track TAG money and the citywide finance system that records expenditures, leading to large discrepancies and confusion about how much money is available for students.

The next question is: Is there anything being done about the oversight? Don’t worry, Eleanor Holmes Norton is on the case.The D.C. delegate, who has championed TAG in Congress, said she will ask the new D.C. chief financial officer to lead a much-needed review of the program:

“The draft report raises concerns about the sufficiency of internal controls at the D.C. TAG program,” Norton said Friday. “While the report is troubling, the auditors may have discovered unexpected carry-over funds, which, if accurate, should allow more D.C. students to access D.C. TAG.”

Okay, but Norton’s reassurances likely won’t put taxpayers at ease anytime soon. What do you think? Should this plan be scrapped?


Cortney O'Brien

Cortney O'Brien is a Townhall web editor. Follow her on Twitter @obrienc2.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography