The Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Veterans Affairs have signed a “Memorandum of Agreement” (MOA) “to provide mutual assistance in the oversight and enforcement of laws pertaining to advertising, sales, and enrollment practices of institutions of higher learning and other establishments that offer training for military education benefits recipients.”
Federal law (38 U.S.C. 3696) requires the VA to enter into an agreement with the FTC to help ensure that the VA does not approve the enrollment of an eligible veteran or person in a course offered by an institution that uses any type of unfair or deceptive advertising, marketing or enrollment practices in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act. The MOA provides that the VA can request that the FTC investigate an institution approved for enrollment of veterans eligible for educational benefits.
When making a referral, the VA must provide a written explanation for its belief that the institution is using or has used unfair or deceptive practices and provide supporting documentation or information. The MOA details the factors to be considered by the FTC in deciding whether to accept a referral. If the FTC accepts a referral, FTC staff must prepare an analysis setting forth its conclusions as to whether the institution has engaged in unfair or deceptive practices. The MOA details how the analysis is to be used by the VA and how third party requests for nonpublic information the FTC or VA receive from each other are to be handled.
In July 2014, the CFPB announced that it had entered into a “Joint Higher Education Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) with the VA, Department of Defense, and Department of Education as part of a joint effort by the agencies “to prevent abusive and deceptive recruiting practices by schools serving servicemembers, veterans, spouses and other family members.”
The MOU was described as carrying out the agencies’ “comprehensive strategy to strengthen enforcement and compliance mechanisms” developed in accordance with Executive Order 13607 signed by President Obama in April 2012. The Executive Order was intended to combat concerns about aggressive and deceptive targeting of service members, veterans, spouses and other family members by educational institutions to gain access to educational benefits. It also mandated the creation of uniform procedures for referring potential matters for civil or criminal enforcement to the DOJ or other agencies.
Among other things, the CFPB agreed in the MOU to send alerts to each agency regarding potential significant trends and patterns of noncompliance identified in ongoing oversight activities and provide complaint data to the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel database.