Having stood up and promoted the whistleblower program at the CFPB, it appears that Richard Cordray may now be taking similar steps at Federal Student Aid (“FSA”). On November 10, the Department of Education (“ED”) and FSA issued a bulletin inviting whistleblowers to provide information about potential violations of the Higher Education Act (“HEA”) and its implementing regulations. FSA issued the bulletin to encourage tips from current and former employees, vendors, contractors of institutions of higher education, third-party servicers, third party lead generators, students, and anyone else with relevant information. The bulletin directs individuals with information on potential violations to submit their tips and information directly to the FSA Office of Enforcement.
While the FSA Office of Enforcement has cautioned that it cannot guarantee complete anonymity, it has said that it will make a good faith effort to honor confidentiality requests. However, confidentiality will apply only to identity and contact information, not to the information provided about the violation of law, and only to the extent consistent with law enforcement needs. To discourage anonymous reporting, FSA has noted that submitting information without a name and appropriate contact information will prevent it from reaching out to ask follow-up questions and may limit its ability to investigate or take further action to stop alleged misconduct. FSA has also reminded potential whistleblowers that federal law includes protections against retaliation for employees of ED contractors, subcontractors, grantees subgrantees, and personal services contractors, protections which we note are comparable to the protections granted to whistleblowers to the CFPB in Dodd-Frank Section 1057. (Although the Dodd-Frank included whistleblower provisions for several federal agencies, some of which provide for the payment of bounties, it did not include a whistleblower provision for ED or FSA.)
The bulletin also provides the manner by which individuals may file complaints related to:
- discrimination by a school based upon race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or age, or retaliating for making a civil rights complaint;
- fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement, or violations of laws and regulations involving ED funds or programs; and
- issues with loan delinquency or default, wage garnishment, school closure or release of transcripts, application issues, and/or other student issues.