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Legislative Oversight Committee Issues Subpoenas Into ‘Race To The Top’ Investigation

Subpoenas for Former Education Commissioner, Wireless Generation Issued; Committee Hearing Slated for October 7

TRENTON – The Senate Legislative Oversight Committee today voted to subpoena two key individuals and order them to produce documents in advance of its Thursday hearing into the state’s failed Race to the Top federal education grant application.

The committee was granted the power of subpoena today by the Senate, which voted 21-14 on a resolution (SR-399) offered by Majority Leader Barbara Buono. The committee met following the Senate session and formally issued subpoenas to former state Education Commissioner Bret Schundler and Larry Berger, CEO of Wireless Generation, the vendor chosen by the state to compile its application.

Buono, the committee’s chairwoman, called the action “extraordinary but necessary,” as the panel seeks a way around administrative roadblocks that have allowed administration officials to keep vital documents out of lawmakers’ hands, despite an extensive request for information under the state’s Open Public Records Act.

“The Committee is simply taking the step it needs to be able to its job,” said Buono (D-Middlesex). “As people hide behind OPRA, the more it raises the question of what they are hiding. Residents deserve answers, plain and simple. And if getting those answers requires using the Legislature’s subpoena power to compel officials to step up and be held accountable, then so be it.”

In addition to seeking individual testimony, the committee’s subpoenas also demand the release of all correspondence and documents – both printed and electronic – from each person related to the Race to the Top application.

“If the Legislative Oversight Committee is to have the in-depth hearing this issue deserves, than we need information related to Race to the Top beyond that which officials wanted us to see,” said Buono. “It’s disheartening that state officials and Wireless Generation have been so secretive as to require this extraordinary step. But the only way we can move forward and ensure future grants are handled with the proper care is by examining everything that went wrong on Race to the Top, every step of the way.”

The Senate Legislative Oversight Committee will convene its hearing on Thursday, October 7.

It is the first time since 2003 that either house of the Legislature has invoked its subpoena powers, and the first time since 1993 that a committee had been forced to issue a subpoena.