DeVos aide overseeing student loans quits board amid scrutiny

DeVos aide overseeing student loans quits board amid scrutiny
© Greg Nash

Mark Brown, the Education Department appointee who oversees the government’s student loan portfolio, resigned from the board of a group that owns some of that debt, according to Politico

Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump targets Iran with new sanctions The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Biden, Sanders to share stage at first DNC debate The Hill's Morning Report — Uproar after Trump's defense of foreign dirt on candidates MORE selected Brown in March to head the department’s Office of Federal Student Aid. However, until Tuesday, Brown also served as an unpaid board member at KnowledgeWorks, a nonprofit organization that holds roughly $30 million in federal student loans.

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Brown "has decided that in an abundance of caution and to avoid even the remote appearance of conflict, he will resign from his unpaid, nonprofit board position immediately," Education Department spokesperson Liz Hill told Politico. 

The Education Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill. 

The resignation came after questions emerged surrounding potential conflicts of interest between Brown’s two roles.

Hill said last week that ethics officials at the Education Department had reviewed Brown’s role at the nonprofit and that he was "recused from any particular matters related to KnowledgeWorks." Brown resigned Tuesday after Politico request more information regarding the recusal.

KnowledgeWorks has been pivoting its focus away from student lending and more toward philanthropy, though its ownership of loans still means it must follow Education Department regulations that Brown’s unit is supposed to enforce. The organization’s loan holdings could be impacted by the actions of Brown’s office. 

“It’s definitely a potential conflict of interest,” Virginia Canter, chief ethics counsel at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told Politico. “He should have been required to resign from KnowledgeWorks.” 

Federal law bars officials from working on issues that would have a “direct and predictable effect” on their personal finances or those of an organization on whose board they serve.

Brown’s photograph and biography, which included his position at the Education Department, no longer appears on the KnowledgeWorks website.