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DeVos Backtracks on Replacing Education Department Watchdog


By Alyson Klein and Andrew Ujifusa

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has backtracked from a move to replace her department's inspector general following an outcry from House and Senate Democratic education leaders.

DeVos recently replaced Sandra Bruce, who took over as acting inspector general after Kathleen Tighe retired last year, with Phil Rosenfelt, who had previously served as the department's general counsel. On Friday, however, a spokeswoman for DeVos said that the move had been reversed and that Bruce was back on the job as the department's top watchdog.

"After the designation of the Acting IG was made, the matter came to the attention of new personnel in the White House.  After they reevaluated the situation, the decision was made, in an abundance of caution, to rescind the designation," Liz Hill said in a statement. 

The move came shortly after a Friday letterto DeVos sent by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the chairman of the House education committee, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who oversees a panel that governs K-12 spending, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the Senate education committee. They demanded an explanation from DeVos as to why she had replaced Bruce with Rosenfelt. Rosenfelt also briefly served as acting secretary of education between the time that President Barack Obama's secretary, John B. King Jr. stepped down and DeVos was sworn in.) 

Selecting a senior department official to serve as that same department's independent watchdog is highly unusual, the Democrats stated.

"Congress and the public rely on the independence and objectivity of inspectors general to effectively conduct audits and investigations of their agencies with integrity," they 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."

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