Education IG Report on Gainful Employment Regulations - Too Little, Too Late
Late last week, the Education Department’s inspector general released a long-awaited report of its investigation into the controversial gainful employment regulations governing for-profit education institutions that Education issued last year. Despite evidence suggesting improper communications between high-level Education officials and opponents of the regulations, at least several of whom obtained advance copies of the regulations, Inspector General Kathleen Tighe concluded no one at Education did anything wrong.
As for evidence short sellers like Steve Eisman were attempting to improperly influence the outcome of the regulatory process for personal financial gain and had spoken with Education officials multiple times about the regulations, again the IG found no one at Education breached any legal or ethical requirement. But it’s hard to tell exactly what the IG found on this front, as she inexplicably treated investment analysts as “journalists” who are protected sources.
Through multiple Freedom of Information Act requests and several lawsuits, CREW unearthed substantial documentation pointing in the direction of misconduct or, at the very least, serious lapses in judgment by Education officials, including former Deputy Undersecretary Robert Shireman. The IG saw it differently, concluding only that Education needs written protocols governing communications with outside parties in regard to rule making and the issuance of regulations. Further, the IG faulted Education’s failure to require all agency employees working on the gainful employment regulations to file financial disclosure reports.
The IG did suggest an unnamed official – quite obviously Mr. Shireman – potentially violated his ethics pledge by communicating with his former employer in the midst of the regulatory process. The sanction for this clearly unethical conduct? The IG merely recommend that the Education secretary remind all political employees of their ethical obligations.
We are not the only ones disappointed by the IG’s report. Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Tom A. Coburn R-OK) sent the IG a letter on Friday identifying several weaknesses in her report, including the failure of her investigative team to conduct in-person interviews with non-agency personnel, White House staff, or congressional staff despite clear evidence implicating them in potentially improper communications. Senators Burr and Coburn asked the IG to conduct a further examination that involves a review of work, cell, and home phone logs of relevant individuals. They also asked her to report on a number of matters involving the role of investment analysts, White House and congressional staff, and to provide more particulars regarding her initial investigation.
CREW can only go where the publicly available information takes us; we don’t have the power to compel production of testimony or many documents. That is why we depend on inspectors general – who have access to people and evidence beyond our reach – to fill in the gaps. In the case of the Education IG, we are disappointed that she failed to take advantage of all the tools at her disposal to full investigate this matter, and instead released a report that leaves too many questions unanswered.