Warren: Education Dept lawyer may have violated conflict-of-interest laws

Warren: Education Dept lawyer may have violated conflict-of-interest laws
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBipartisan group of lawmakers aim to reform US sugar program Schumer: Dems want DACA fix in government spending bill The Hill interview — DNC chief: I came here to win elections MORE (D-Mass.) is pressing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for answers as to whether or not an Education Department lawyer violated a federal conflict-of-interest law by working to repeal an Obama-era nonprofit college rule while working for a company that owns several for-profit schools.

Warren this week sent a letter to DeVos, asking her to detail Robert Eitel's involvement with the Education Department's work to roll back the Borrower Defense to Repayment rule. 

The rule prohibits schools that receive federal funds from including language in contracts that force students to waive their right to participate in class-action lawsuits.

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Warren claims Eitel served both as the vice president of regulatory legal services at Bridgepoint Education Inc., a company that owns several for-profit colleges, and as a special assistant to DeVos from February to April before being appointed senior counselor to the secretary.

The Massachusetts senator said she has repeatedly questioned Eitel’s involvement in the department’s work to redo the rule originally designed to hold abusive higher education institutions accountable for cheating students and taxpayers out of billions of dollars in federal loans.

"If Eitel provided any written or verbal advice to the Secretary of Education and Department or Administration Staff on any aspect of the borrower defense rule-a ‘particular matter' that affects the financial interest of Bridgepoint-between February 13, 2017, and April 5, 2017, including on implementation, delay, or rulemaking while employed both at the Department and at Bridgepoint, and did so without receiving any relevant waiver, then it appears that Eitel may have violated the criminal conflict-of-interest statute,” she said in her letter on Tuesday.  

Warren noted that Eitel currently serves as chairman of the department’s Regulatory Reform Task Force and co-authored a report in May recommending the repayment rule for repeal. She asked DeVos to answer a series of questions about Eitel’s specific involvement in the agency's work to repeal the rule by Sept. 1.