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Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016

Educating officials to do a better job

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Were it not so pathetic, it would be downright funny. But as you'll quickly learn, there's not much funny with wasting taxpayer funds - at least not funny in my book.

Here's what happened. A Republican senator from Maine was having difficulty taking Education Department officials at their word. Despite pronouncements from the education officials, the GOP watchdog was not convinced that the federal agency was keeping a close eye on taxpayer dollars. So she devised a scheme to test her theory. Boy was she right!

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, invented the Y'Hica Institute for the Visual Arts in London as a ploy to see if the Department of Education would provide loan funds for make-believe students there. The fictitious graduate-level foreign school received certification from the Department to participate in the loan program. She then created three fictitious students attending the fictitious school who applied for student loans. And just like that, $55,000 of your tax dollars was quickly made available to the phony students. By the way, just as a joke, the Senator gave her own name as one of the fictitious students. Even that was not enough to alert the Education Department.

An Education spokesman - predictably of course - said the Department policy was not followed and that changes would be made. But it seems a bit late to be addressing changes.

This is not the first time the Education officials have been caught with their policies down however. In recent years,a similar scheme was uncovered and when the dust settled, a fraud ring was imprisoned and ordered to refund over $11 million in phony federal funding. But even officials with the federal agency acknowledge that there are more cases of fraud and abuse as of yet uncovered.

If it's that easy to create a fictitious conduit for federal tax dollars, then something is obviously wrong. It just illustrates that each and every federal department and agency should undergo annual reviews by someone outside of government. Internal watchdogs often fall short in their assignments. It takes detached observers to get to the heart of the matter.

Sen. Collins deserves credit for her telling scheme. We need more with the same attitude and resolve in Congress.

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