Trump Administration Reverses Decision to Replace Department of Education Watchdog

By Joelle Fredman, NASFAA Staff Reporter

The Trump administration Friday rescinded its seemingly sudden decision from earlier in the week to replace the Department of Education’s (ED) current acting inspector general, who has served in the role for less than two months.

Last Wednesday, the White House announced that President Donald Trump appointed Phil Rosenfelt, currently ED’s deputy general counsel, to replace Sandra Bruce in the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), which many Democrats argued was a conflict of interest. According to POLITICO, the White House would not answer whether Rosenfelt would continue to serve as general counsel while also assuming the new position as the inspector general.

Specifically, in a letter sent to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos just hours before the announcement Friday reversing this decision, Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) wrote that they were concerned because Rosenfelt, as deputy general counsel,  is responsible for implementing programs that the inspector general 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,” they wrote. “Further, Mr. Rosenfelt’s appointment would jeopardize the office’s investigation work, given the lack of independence from the department and the resulting inability to maintain the integrity of investigations.”

In a letter that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sent to DeVos Thursday, she also argued that replacing Bruce with Rosenfelt would “do grave damage to the independence and effectiveness of the OIG.”

“Mr. Rosenfelt has served the department as a non-political career appointee for decades, and I have no reason to question his ethics and integrity,” Warren wrote. “But the decision to replace Ms. Bruce without explanation, and with a senior agency official who appears to be still serving in that capacity, is troubling because it is vital that the work of the OIG remain uninterrupted and that the IG operate independently from the White House and from department leadership.”

POLITICO also reported that a spokesperson from the OIG, Catherine Grant, wrote in email that officials at the office “do not know nor have any specifics about Mr. Rosenfelt's position(s)," but that “it does raise independence concerns.”

Bruce will continue to serve as the acting inspector general due to Friday’s decision.


Publication Date: 2/4/2019

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