Department of Education

The Department of Education (Education) reported that it planned for and implemented reductions in numerous grant programs designed to aid schools and students nationwide, and identified and reduced administrative and other costs to achieve spending reductions required by sequestration. In part due to unexpected savings in two of its contracts, Education reported that it avoided employee furloughs in fiscal year 2013. Education officials also described their planning and actions for sequestration as a continuation of reductions—for example, in hiring, travel, and conferences—undertaken since the last of the additional funding made available by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act) was awarded in 2010. While Education officials stated that the loss of agency personnel could negatively affect the agency’s performance, they said it was too soon to assess other effects and it might be difficult to determine the full and longer-term effects of sequestration on Education’s operations and services to the public. For example, while some grant reductions occurred during the last school year, others occurred during the 2013-2014 school year with effects not yet known. In addition, because school district budgets are determined by many factors, including local taxes and state government contributions, it might be difficult, even in the longer term, to assess the effects of sequestration independent of other factors.

In May 2014, we reported more in-depth information on planning, implementation and effects of sequestration at the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, a component within Education. See GAO,2013 Sequestration: Selected Federal Agencies Reduced Some Services and Investments, While Taking Short-Term Actions to Mitigate Effects, GAO-14-452 (Washington, D.C.: May 28, 2014).