May 16, 2001
Honorable Charles Norwood
House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Congressman Norwood:
I am writing to you and several other members of Congress to let you know how much I appreciate your suggestions and support in helping the Department of Education focus on management improvements. From the day that then President-elect Bush asked me to be his Secretary of Education, the past management problems of the Department of Education have been of paramount concern to me. During my first visit to Washington as part of the Bush-Cheney Presidential Transition, I became acutely aware of the long-standing and pervasive management problems that I was set to inherit. The illustration of the problems is the fact that the Department has been unable to get a clean audit for several years and most recently only got a qualified opinion on its latest audit, which covered the last fiscal year ending September 30, 2000.
Based on your comments at our recent meeting, I thought you would be interested in a few more details about what I have been doing since January 20. I will also lay out for you my plans and action steps in our comprehensive blueprint for management excellence that will address deficiencies that have existed for far too long.
The blueprint for management excellence is designed to make sure that we account for every dollar and restore the confidence of Congress and the taxpayers in the Department of Education. My goals are very clear:
- Obtain a clean audit opinion within 18 months;
- Remove Student Financial Assistance programs from the General Accounting Office high risk list prior to the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act;
- Put in place effective internal controls to protect the Department's assets from waste, fraud, and abuse, including much tighter limits on the use of credit cards and other payment methods;
- Intensify efforts to modernize student aid delivery and management and strengthen efforts to reduce student loan default costs;
- Make accountability for results the primary operating principle for all Department of Education managers, employees, grantees, and contractors.
Please know that I take my stewardship over the Department and the taxpayers' dollars very seriously. Last month, I held my first two press conferences as Secretary. The first press conference focused on our budget submission to Congress that included our legislative agenda and our management priorities. The following week, I announced my three-step action plan for achieving my five management improvement goals.
The first action step was the formation of a "Management Improvement Team" -- a strike team of 10 members of the senior staff of the Department of Education who will work exclusively for three months attacking management problems and developing solutions to correct them. They have begun by addressing hundreds of existing recommendations set forth in audits addressing our problems. I have directed them to produce a progress report for the public by July 1. This dedicated team is working hard under my direction to accomplish these goals.
In addition, I have engaged an outside group of experts to act as a broker to keep us on track. The Council for Excellence in Government will deploy a select panel of experts to advise the Department and evaluate our efforts.
Finally, I have asked President Bush to make it a priority to nominate an assistant secretary of education for management and a chief financial officer for the Department. Both nominees will fill vital roles allowed to remain vacant for five and two years respectively during the previous Administration. We are dedicated to recruiting the best professional talent to help us successfully reach our goals. The President has already nominated other members of my senior management team and I assure you that we are changing the culture within the Department. We are working diligently to get a clean audit opinion for the current fiscal year that ends September 30, 2001. However, since my full management team will only have four months to achieve that goal, I am certain that our reform efforts will be fully realized during fiscal year 2002.
This management initiative is just the first step in a process of building public confidence in the Department's management and integrity. I look forward to sharing the results of our management improvement efforts regularly with Congress and with the public, and to working with you and other members of Congress to reform American education and improve student achievement so that no child is left behind.