Top leaders of the congressional education committees from both parties wrote to Betsy DeVos, the U.S. secretary of education, Thursday to get answers on the "cause and scope" of this month's shutdown of a financial aid data tool by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, which cited the vulnerability of student data to identity thieves. (The Wall Street Journal reported that an inspector general for the IRS is investigating whether the tool was being used for fraud.)
In addition, the Oversight Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives' top Republican and Democrat joined a bipartisan group of eight other members in writing to the U.S. Department of Education and IRS to request documents and information about the shutdown.
Last week, in a joint statement, the IRS and the Education Department said the online data tool would be down for "several weeks."
That's a problem for many financial aid applicants, who use the site to transfer tax information to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Many applicants are facing FAFSA deadlines in coming weeks. Indiana postponed its deadline Thursday, with other states mulling a similar move.
Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, and Representative Virginia Foxx, a Republican from North Carolina, joined their Democratic counterparts on the two chambers' education committees to ask the department what it and the IRS will do to help students who are affected by the shutdown.
"The loss of the [data retrieval tool] could discourage many eligible low-income students from applying for aid or [income-driven repayment] plans altogether," they wrote. "We are requesting a staff briefing from you that includes the appropriate staff from all the relevant department offices involved in this situation to obtain further information about the nature of the current outage. We would like to hear about the timeline of events from the start of the outage to an estimated reinstatement date; steps the department is taking to remedy the situation for students, borrowers and parents; and the actions the department will take to protect applicants' data privacy and security during and after this outage."
The group of congressional leaders requested the briefing to occur by the end of next week.
Opinions on Inside Higher Ed
Inside Higher Ed’s Blog U
What Others Are Reading