About-Face on Acting Education Watchdog Follows Concerns

  • Career official’s ability to be effective watchdog questioned
  • IG office probes online degree programs, student aid

The White House has backed off designating a new acting inspector general for the Education Department following concerns about whether the candidate, a longtime career official, could be an effective watchdog.

Acting Inspector General Sandra Bruce, who had been in the role for less than two months, was informed Wednesday that she would be replaced with Deputy General Counsel Philip Rosenfelt, according to the office spokeswoman Catherine Grant.

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The U.S. Department of Education building in Washington, D.C.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate questioned how Rosenfelt could scrutinize the department while remaining an official within it.

Reps. Bobby Scott(D-Va.) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) raised further questions about the choice of Rosenfelt.

“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 said in a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

The inspector general is investigating a wide variety of matters, including how colleges partner with third-parties to create online degree programs, how schools and students are verified for federal student aid, and oversight of student loan servicers.

White House officials decided against having Rosenfelt take on the acting inspector general role, and never officially announced the acting appointment. Education Department spokeswoman Liz Hill said new White House staffers decided to reverse the decision.

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

Bruce previously served as a deputy inspector general within the department.

Scott said while he appreciated the reversal, it raised serious concerns.

“Any attempt to shield the Department from proper scrutiny puts students and taxpayers at risk,” Scott said in a statement. “We will continue to focus on ensuring that the IG is independent and can investigate potential issues without restrictions.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Washington at ewilkins@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com