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House, Senate Democrats Send Secretary DeVos Second Request for Information Regarding Attempt to Undermine Independence of Education Department Watchdog

Feb 19, 2019
Press Release
Follow-up request also seeks response to new, troubling information about efforts to influence Office of Inspector General

Today, House and Senate Democrats sent Education Secretary Betsy DeVos a second request for information regarding an abandoned effort to replace the Department’s Acting Inspector General, an independent watchdog tasked with investigating allegations of fraud, waste, and criminal wrongdoing within the agency. The letter also demanded an explanation for a new and troubling revelation that – prior to replacing the Acting Inspector General – a senior department official had sought to halt an investigation into Secretary DeVos’s controversial decision to save a troubled accreditor of for-profit colleges.

Such attempts to influence, replace, or retaliate against an independent watchdog are highly inappropriate.

The letter was sent by Members representing all House and Senate committees responsible for conducting oversight over the Education Department: Chairman Bobby Scott (VA-03), House Education and Labor Committee; Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), Senate HELP Committee and Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies; Chairman Elijah Cummings (MD-07), House Committee on Oversight and Reform; Ranking Member Gary Peters (D-MI), Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee; and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT-03), Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.

On January 30, the Education Department’s Acting Inspector General Sandra Bruce was notified without explanation that she was being replaced by Philip Rosenfelt, who had been serving as the Department’s Deputy General Counsel, effective immediately. Two days later, the Department reversed its decision after Democrats sent a letter to Secretary DeVos seeking an explanation for the sudden change. The Department has refused to answer questions about its initial decision.

Those unanswered questions were magnified by a recent revelation that Deputy Secretary Mitchell Zais – the same department official who notified Ms. Bruce that she was being replaced – had recently confronted her over a decision to open an investigation into Secretary DeVos’s reinstatement of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS). The Obama administration had stripped ACICS of its authority in response to its record of accrediting low-quality, for-profit schools, including the now-defunct ITT Technical Institute and Corinthian Colleges. 

“As we learn more about this inappropriate appointment and surrounding events, we have become increasingly concerned by the Department’s efforts to influence the independence of the OIG and that Office’s critical work,” the Members wrote. “In particular, we are disturbed to learn that the decision to remove Acting Inspector General Bruce was preceded by demands from the Department that the OIG drop an investigation into Secretary DeVos’ reinstatement of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) or alternatively to focus the investigation on Department decisions during the Obama Administration. We are also disappointed by the limited documentation and information we have received related to the initial decision to replace Acting Inspector General Bruce, and we reiterate our request that the Department provide these responses promptly.”  

The letter asks Secretary DeVos to provide answers to several important questions regarding the initial effort to replace the Acting Inspector General and previous attempts to influence the Office of the Inspector General. 

A copy of the letter is available here.

116th Congress