02.01.19

Senate, House Dems Demand Answers from Secretary DeVos Following Move to Replace Education Department’s Independent Watchdog with Top Department Official

Senator Murray, Chairman Scott, and Chair DeLauro Warn DeVos’ New Acting Inspector General Could Block Investigations into Education Department Actions

 

WASHINGTON – Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), top Democrat on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Congressman Bobby Scott (VA-03), Chair of the Committee on Education and Labor, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT-03), Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, wrote a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos demanding answers regarding a recent move to replace the Department’s Inspector General with a senior official working inside the Department. 

 

Deputy Inspector General Sandra Bruce had served as the Acting Inspector General since former Inspector General Kathy Tighe retired in November 2018.  On Wednesday, Ms. Bruce was notified that Philip Rosenfelt, who had been serving as the Department’s General Counsel, would replace her as the Acting Inspector General, effective immediately.

 

Selecting a senior department official to lead that same department’s independent watchdog is highly unusual.

 

“Congress and the public relies on the independence and objectivity of inspectors general to effectively conduct audits and investigations of their agencies with integrity,” the Members wrote. “The conflicts or appearances of conflict are a result of Mr. Rosenfelt’s prior work in the Department’s Office of General Counsel, which has a role implementing virtually all programs that the OIG is charged with investigating.

 

“Given Mr. Rosenfelt’s work with the very programs he would be investigating, it would be virtually impossible to resolve these many conflicts and the work of the OIG, including its audits, would grind to a halt.”

 

The Members requested information, on or before February 8, regarding who made the decision to replace the Acting Inspector General, what factors justified the decision, and whether Mr. Rosenfelt will serve as both the Deputy General Counsel and the Acting Inspector General. They also requested that Secretary DeVos turn over all communications related to the decision.

 

The full text of the letter is below.

 

February 1, 2019

 

The Honorable Betsy DeVos

Secretary of Education

U.S. Department of Education

400 Maryland Avenue, SW

Washington, DC  20202

 

Dear Secretary DeVos:

 

We write with regard to the decision to install Department of Education (ED) Deputy General Counsel Philip H. Rosenfelt as the Department’s Acting Inspector General.  Specifically, we request documents and information regarding the decision to place a senior Department official in charge of this critical office.  As you know, the Congress and the public relies on the independence and objectivity of inspectors general to effectively conduct audits and investigations of their agencies with integrity.  However, the abrupt appointment of Mr. Rosenfelt to the position of Acting Inspector General would create incurable organizational impairments.

 

As required by the law, Deputy Inspector General Sandra D. Bruce has served as the Acting Inspector General since former Inspector General Kathy Tighe retired in November 2018.  On January 30, 2019, Ms. Bruce was notified that Mr. Rosenfelt would begin serving as the Acting Inspector General, effective immediately.  It is unclear whether Mr. Rosenfelt will continue serving as Deputy General Counsel concurrently with his appointment as Acting Inspector General.  Ms. Bruce has served a distinguished career in offices of inspector general (OIGs) across multiple agencies.  By contrast, Mr. Rosenfelt has spent much of his career in the ED Office of the General Counsel (OGC).  Unlike the OIG, OGC is tasked with providing legal assistance to the Secretary and the Department and is not expected to remain independent.

 

We are concerned that the installation of Mr. Rosenfelt as Acting Inspector General would impede the ability of the OIG to conduct its critical work due to conflicts or appearances of conflict.  The conflicts or appearances of conflict are a result of Mr. Rosenfelt’s prior work in the Department’s Office of General Counsel, which has a role implementing virtually all programs that the OIG is charged with investigating. Given Mr. Rosenfelt’s work with the very programs he would be investigating, it would be virtually impossible to resolve these many conflicts and the work of the OIG, including its audits, would grind to a halt.  Further, Mr. Rosenfelt’s appointment would jeopardize the Office’s investigations work, given the lack of independence from the Department and the resulting inability to maintain the integrity of investigations.

 

The decision to place a senior Department official in charge of the OIG dramatically undermines the Office’s independence and the integrity of any work conducted under Mr. Rosenfelt’s leadership of the Office.  We therefore request that the Department immediately retract the appointment of Mr. Rosenfelt and provide the following documents and information by no later than February 8, 2019:

 

  1. Please provide all communications both within the Department and externally related to the decision to install Mr. Rosenfelt as the Acting Inspector General.  Such communications should include, but not be limited to, emails, letters, faxes, and any other written materials, as well as a list of any meetings, calls, or other oral communication that took place.  In the case of meetings, calls, or other oral communications, please include the date, time, and location at which such communications took place, a list of the individuals who participated, as well as a description of the communication.
  2. Who made the decision to designate Mr. Rosenfelt as the Acting Inspector General? 
  3. What factors led to the decision to remove Ms. Bruce as the Acting Inspector General?
  4. What factors led to the decision to designate Mr. Rosenfelt as the new Acting Inspector General?
  5. In the course of the decision to designate Mr. Rosenfelt as the Acting Inspector General, what individuals and offices were consulted?
  6. Does Mr. Rosenfelt intend to jointly hold the position of Acting Inspector General and his current role in the Office of General Counsel, or if not, return to the Office of General Counsel after a permanent Inspector General is confirmed?
  7. Did the Department consult with the Counsel of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) on the plan to designate Mr. Rosenfelt as the Acting Inspector General?

 

Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter.  If you have any questions, or would like to further discuss compliance with this request, please contact Elizabeth Letter with Senator Murray’s HELP Committee Staff at 202-224-0767, Benjamin Sinoff, Director of Education Oversight, House Committee on Education & Labor at 202-578-1034, and Jared Bass with Chair DeLauro’s Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee at 202-225-6680. 

 

Sincerely,

 

Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, House Committee on Education and Labor

Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Committee on Appropriations

Ranking Member Patty Murray, Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions

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