(a) Amount returned proportionate to extent of harm violation caused to an identifiable Federal interest; reduction; determination of identifiable Federal interest
A recipient determined to have made an unallowable expenditure, or to have otherwise failed to discharge its responsibility to account properly for funds, shall be required to return funds in an amount that is proportionate to the extent of the harm its violation caused to an identifiable Federal interest associated with the program under which the recipient received the award. Such amount shall be reduced in whole or in part by an amount that is proportionate to the extent the mitigating circumstances caused the violation.
For the purpose of paragraph (1), an identifiable Federal interest includes, but is not limited to, serving only eligible beneficiaries; providing only authorized services or benefits; complying with expenditure requirements and conditions (such as set-aside, excess cost, maintenance of effort, comparability, supplement-not-supplant, and matching requirements); preserving the integrity of planning, application, recordkeeping, and reporting requirements; and maintaining accountability for the use of funds.
(b) Reduction or waiver of amount based on mitigating circumstances; burden of proof; determination of mitigating circumstances; weight, etc., of written request for guidance
When a State or local educational agency is determined to have made an unallowable expenditure, or to have otherwise failed to discharge its responsibility to account properly for funds, and mitigating circumstances exist, as described in paragraph (2), the judge shall reduce such amount by an amount that is proportionate to the extent the mitigating circumstances caused the violation. Furthermore, the judge is authorized to determine that no recovery is justified when mitigating circumstances warrant. The burden of demonstrating the existence of mitigating circumstances shall be upon the State or local educational agency.
(2) For the purpose of paragraph (1), mitigating circumstances exist only when it would be unjust to compel the recovery of funds because the State or local educational agency—
actually and reasonably relied upon erroneous written guidance provided by the Department;
(B) made an expenditure or engaged in a practice after—
the State or local educational agency submitted to the Secretary, in good faith, a written request for guidance with respect to the expenditure or practice at issue, and
a Department official did not respond within 90 days of receipt by the Department of such request; or
actually and reasonably relied upon a judicial decree issued to the recipient.
A written request for guidance as described in paragraph (2) sent by certified mail (return receipt requested) shall be conclusive proof of receipt by the Department.
If the Secretary responds to a written request for guidance described in paragraph (2)(B) more than 90 days after its receipt, the State or local educational agency that submitted the request shall comply with the guidance received at the earliest practicable time.
(5) In order to demonstrate the existence of the mitigating circumstances described in paragraph (2)(B), the State or local educational agency shall demonstrate that—
the written request for guidance accurately described the proposed expenditure or practice and included the facts necessary for a determination of its legality; and
the written request for guidance contained a certification by the chief legal officer of the State educational agency that such officer had examined the proposed expenditure or practice and believed the proposed expenditure or practice was permissible under then applicable State and Federal law; and
The Secretary shall disseminate to State educational agencies responses to written requests for guidance, described in paragraph (5), that reflect significant interpretations of applicable law or policy.
(c) Review of written requests for guidance on periodic basis
The Secretary shall periodically review the written requests for guidance submitted under this section to determine the need for new or supplementary regulatory or other guidance under applicable programs.
(Pub. L. 90–247, title IV, § 453, as added Pub. L. 95–561, title XII, § 1232, Nov. 1, 1978, 92 Stat. 2349; amended Pub. L. 100–297, title III, § 3501(a), Apr. 28, 1988, 102 Stat. 353.)