June 14, 2018

Warren, Krishnamoorthi Call on Inspector General to Investigate Failures of Education Department Ethics Program under Secretary DeVos

Counselor to Secretary May Have Misled Congress on his Compliance with Ethics Law

Letter to Inspector General (PDF)  

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) today asked the Department of Education's Inspector General (IG) Kathleen Tighe to investigate the Department's ethics program. They brought to attention recent reporting that found Robert Eitel, Senior Counselor to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, played a more central role than previously indicated in the Department's decision to delay the enforcement of the borrower defense and gainful employment rules.

Federal ethics law requires federal employees to be "recused" from any "particular matter" in which the individual has a financial interest. Mr. Eitel may have violated the law by working on either borrower defense or gainful employment while he was simultaneously employed by Bridgepoint Education and the Department between February 13, 2017 and April 5, 2017. The gainful employment and borrower defense rules are of direct financial interest to Bridgepoint.

"We are deeply troubled that Mr. Eitel's questionable compliance with federal ethics rules, including his apparently misleading testimony to Congress, signal a critical breakdown in federal ethics at the Department of Education, which requires urgent attention and remedy," wrote Warren and Krishnamoorthi.

The Department and Mr. Eitel misled Congress about his role in the gainful employment rule. In an October 2017 letter to Senator Warren, Secretary DeVos stated that Mr. Eitel had "voluntarily recused" himself from the matter and the Department's Office of the General Counsel also reported this voluntary recusal in a February 2018 clarification letter to Senator Warren. In response to questions for the record from Representative Krishnamoorthi, Mr. Eitel himself stated he had recused himself from gainful employment regulations. But despite this recusal, Mr. Eitel may have been involved in conversations, meetings, and events pertaining to the gainful employment regulation and the decision to delay it.

Senator Warren and Representative Krishnamoorthi have asked the Department repeatedly to clarify Mr. Eitel's involvement in decisions around borrower defense but the Department has never explicitly confirmed or denied whether Mr. Eitel worked on the borrower defense rule while he was concurrently employed by Bridgepoint.

The members of Congress asked the Department IG to examine the entire federal ethics program at the Department to prevent other instances of staff with conflicts of interest influencing policy that impacts millions of students and borrowers - and to also inspect closely Mr. Eitel's involvement in the gainful employment and borrower defense rules given the new evidence.

Senator Warren's oversight effort, DeVos Watch, has been tracking the series of steps taken by Secretary DeVos and the Department that violate conflicts of interest and undermine protections for students and taxpayers.