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Federal Student Aid Chief Resigns

May 25, 2017
 
 

Jim Runcie, the chief operating officer of the Department of Education's Office of Federal Student Aid, resigned Wednesday, the day before he was set to testify at a House of Representatives oversight subcommittee hearing.

A leaked copy of Runcie's resignation memo obtained by BuzzFeed indicated he did not agree with the direction of the department under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos or with orders for him to testify to the subcommittee. Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, issued statements attacking his record of handling the government's $1.4 trillion student loan portfolio after news of his resignation.

"I cannot in good conscience continue to be accountable as chief operating officer given the risk associated with the current environment at the [Education] Department," Runcie said in the memo obtained by BuzzFeed.

Runcie also said in the memo that the diversion of resources from Federal Student Aid hindered his ability to do his job, the site reported.

He was among several career professional employees from the Department of Education and the IRS who were grilled by lawmakers at a hearing this month over the security issues that led to the suspension of the IRS data retrieval tool, a key website for students applying for financial aid. Rep. Virginia Foxx, the chairwoman of the House education committee, said in a statement after Runcie's resignation that he had been at the center of mismanagement at the Office of Federal Student Aid for years.

"Secretary DeVos has an important opportunity to instill new leadership and a new direction within the agency. I urge the secretary to seize this opportunity and work to ensure FSA is efficient, effective and accountable to students, families and hardworking taxpayers," Foxx, a North Carolina Republican, said.

Foxx had promised during that hearing on the data retrieval tool that she would seek to pin the blame for the debacle on officials hired by the Obama administration.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee who soon plans to leave Congress for Fox News, said it was disappointing that Runcie would resign rather than testify to the subcommittee.

"Under his leadership federal student aid systems are less secure, performance has suffered, and improper payments have increased," Chaffetz said. "For years, the inspector general and this committee have warned the Department of Education of vulnerabilities to its $1.1 trillion federal loans program. Appointing new leadership is the first step to righting the ship. I encourage Secretary DeVos to appoint a new COO who values security and competency over politics."

Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the senior Democrat on the Senate education committee, said the reporting around the resignation was a troubling sign that civil servants do not feel they can adequately do their jobs under DeVos.

"This kind of chaos, mismanagement and undue political interference is not a surprise, but it is still deeply disappointing," Murray said.

Matthew Sessa, the deputy COO at FSA, will take over Runcie's role until further notice, according to a press release from the Department of Education.

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