Watchdog Sues Education Dept. for Info on Biden Admin Paying Students to Engage in Election-Related Activities

Watchdog Sues Education Dept. for Info on Biden Admin Paying Students to Engage in Election-Related Activities

  • March 13, 2024
Education has stonewalled FOIA request for 18 months\

If federal funds and government agencies are being used to further the aims of a political party or campaign, the public should know about it – and those agencies should not be withholding records on the matter. That’s the basis of Protect the Public’s Trust’s (PPT) lawsuit against the Department of Education.

At issue is President Biden’s controversial Executive Order (EO) 14019, which allows federal agencies to participate in voter registration and other election-related activities ahead of the 2024 presidential election. Critics say the EO is a violation of the Hatch Act and a misappropriation of tax money for partisan use. The Department of Education (ED) has interpreted it to permit federal work-study (FWS) funds to be used to pay students for such activities, in a reversal of recent guidance. PPT has been seeking to obtain Education documents pertaining to the order for nearly 18 months.

Last month, ED released a result of a review that determined,

FWS funds may be used for employment by a Federal, State, local, or Tribal public agency for civic engagement work that is not associated with a particular interest or group, consistent with 34 CFR § 675.22(b)(5). This work can include supporting broad-based get-out-the-vote activities, voter registration, providing voter assistance at a polling place or through a voter hotline, or serving as a poll worker.

Rather than clarifying, the February 2024 review reverses an April 2022 letter from the Department declaring,

FWS funds cannot be used for employment by a Federal, State, or local public agency, or a private nonprofit organization, other than the institution, for work involving partisan or nonpartisan political activity, including party-affiliated voter registration activities, as this is expressly prohibited under 34 CFR 675.22(b)(5).

In September 2022, PPT filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with ED for communications and implementation records involving Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and five other key Department officials regarding EO 14019.

The last communication PPT had from Education on the request was in March 2023. Subsequent inquiries have been met with silence. Unfortunately, ED isn’t the first department in the Biden administration to flout its legal FOIA obligations. PPT recently won an important court case against the IRS over the tax agency’s efforts to avoid its obligations to reimburse legal costs around its failure to comply with a request.

“This is a bad look for the Department of Education,” said PPT Director Michael Chamberlain. “Not only has ED performed a 180 on guidance designed to prevent the use of federal funds for partisan purposes, but the agency also is also trying to avoid its obligations under the law to provide records about this program. After a year and a half, we still don’t know when or even whether Education will produce the documents. Trust in government is at an all-time low. If it’s going to be restored, citizens must be certain that the bureaucracy works for them, and not for political purposes.”

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