Congressional Republicans are clamoring for a federal investigation of the Biden administration’s “botched” implementation of the revised Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) program, according to a letter exclusively obtained by The Post.
Senate and House GOP committee leaders overseeing the Education Department asked the Government Accountability Office in a Wednesday letter to investigate its failure to fully implement FAFSA for “almost 18 million students.”
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee ranking member Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and House Education and Workforce chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) wrote that a missed Jan. 1 deadline for rolling out the program is “delaying students and families’ access to crucial financial aid for college.”
“Although students have traditionally been able to start submitting a FAFSA each year on October 1st, Education was three months late launching the new application and it was not consistently available on Education’s website until early January (after a ‘soft launch’ on December 30th),” they told GAO comptroller general Gene Dodaro.
The “soft launch” has also created backlogs for high school counselors who help students apply for financial assistance and difficulties for university administrators tasked with granting the aid packages, according to the Republicans.
“Some colleges may be unable to meet their normal timelines for providing students with financial aid offers, which could leave students without time to compare offers and pick a school that is affordable,” Cassidy and Foxx said.
“All these challenges and delays may cause some students—particularly low-income students who are most dependent on federal aid—to give up and not pursue postsecondary education.”
The lawmakers further questioned whether the Department of Education had given enough guidance, since “initial feedback from students and schools indicates that [its] current outreach efforts are falling short.”
They have requested the federal watchdog’s office determine the degree to which that feedback is accurate and if so, what the department has done to address it.
Cassidy and Foxx were joined by a bicameral group of lawmakers, including the GOP conference chairs of the Senate and House, 15 other senators and nine representatives.
In 2020, Congress passed the FAFSA Simplification Act to address difficulties in the federal student aid process, streamlining the number of questions for many applicants from more than 100 to just 18, the members noted.
The rocky rollout recalls the problems Barack Obama’s administration faced in October 2013, when the launch of the 44th president’s signature healthcare program was plagued by glitches.
Then-White House chief of staff Denis McDonough later admitted in an interview with Time that the president had weighed the idea of scuttling the ObamaCare website — and enrollments were down two-thirds from initial projections.
In a Jan. 12 letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, Cassidy compared the two programs and said the FAFSA delay was “unacceptable.”
“As of the January 9 update provided to Congress, [the Education Department] has only received 1 million completed applications,” Cassidy wrote. “The botched rollout means students will be forced to make financial aid decisions with less time and less information than in the past.”
“In addition, this failure suggests that ED and the Office of Student Aid cannot handle the important responsibility of administering financial aid,” he added. “Again, the FAFSA is the backbone of our nation’s entire financial aid system from federal grants to campus-based aid. This failure means the entire system came to a complete halt.”
Following his 2020 campaign promise to cancel federally held student loans, President Biden has made several attempts to forgive hundreds of billions of dollars in college debt — but some programs have been struck down by the courts.
A GAO spokesman confirmed receipt of the congressional GOP letter and said a decision on whether to pursue an investigation would be decided in the next week.
Reps for the Education Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.