Department of Education Gets Failing Grade for Response to Transparency Request

Department of Education Gets Failing Grade for Response to Transparency Request

  • July 1, 2022

Watchdog files lawsuit for long-standing ethics information request

Today, Protect the Public’s Trust announced a federal transparency lawsuit against the Department of Education (ED), involving a more than year-old request for records about ethics waivers granted to political appointees.

ED was one of several agencies to which PPT sent similar Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests looking for documents regarding waivers to the Biden Ethics Pledge and certain federal ethics laws. PPT has received no records for the June 2021 request, despite numerous attempts at outreach to obtain information regarding the status of the request.

Several political appointees previously worked for teachers’ unions and other organizations that could have business before the Department, pursued grants and other opportunities offered by ED, and/or sought to influence Department policy. The American public deserves to know whether any of these officials received waivers to any ethics obligations, potential conflicts of interest, or any other situation involving an entity with which they have a covered relationship. ED’s delays in providing these documents is far from trivial. Many of the ethics obligations for which waivers are granted expire after a certain period of time, often as little as one year. By sitting on a FOIA request for ethics records for an extended period of time, ED could effectively keep the American public in the dark about a waiver until after the waiver was no longer in effect.

“The Department of Education has certainly earned a failing grade for their response to this Freedom of Information Act request,” declared Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “With the outsized influence that teachers’ unions, for example, have been able to exert on federal agencies and the fact that several high-ranking ED officials have connections to them, it is vital for the American public to know about any waivers that political appointees have received. The idea that the Department can hide these documents from public view until they are no longer in effect is just one more reason trust in the government is at an all-time low.”