Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was tired of the leaks about her budget data. So tired that she asked the Education Department’s Inspector General’s office whether she could prosecute employees who disclosed the unclassified, but not publicly available, information to publications like Politico or The Washington Post.
It was that latter newspaper that revealed DeVos’ behind the scenes reaction to the leaks and her attempts at retaliation against the Education Department staffers who were behind them.
DeVos could not have been happy with the response that she received in a report from Assistant Inspector General for Investigations Aaron R. Jordan, who told the secretary that such a move would be difficult since the department had minimal written guidelines for employees on handling non-classified information.
“While evaluating the . . . incidents of alleged unauthorized releases of non-public information, we identified challenges to criminal prosecution or taking significant administrative actions against individuals responsible for the release of this type of information,” Jordan’s report said.
The Assistant Inspector General made a recommendation for establishing policies that could make prosecution for unauthorized disclosure easier in the future. However, he cautioned DeVos that she should “take into consideration whistleblower rights and protections,” because “there may be times when what may be viewed as a ‘leak’ or unauthorized release of non-public information could involve a protected disclosure.”
DeVos was particularly sensitive to the leaks which provided the public with its first look at her budget priorities for the department which favored private charter schools over public education and with the news of the department’s intention to weaken protections for students from predatory lenders. Both were highly controversial decisions that favored corporations over citizens and generated much public opposition to the Education Secretary’s privatization agenda.
She was reportedly furious at the leaks and believed they came from the Budget Service office, a belief that led her to try to divide the now-centralized budget office as part of a proposed significant reorganization of the Department. Luckily, her ideas for both the budget and the departmental reorg were rejected by even the Republican-controlled Congress, which rejected most of her budget priorities and banned her from making her planned changes to the budget office.
While the Trump administration, like most of the administrations before it, is desperately trying to prevent leaks of classified material from reaching the public view, the leaks of non-classified Education Department budgets seems like a minor issue. Given the radical agenda that DeVos is attempting to implement, it’s no wonder that she wants to keep her plans secret. As soon as people find out what her agenda actually is, the opposition to her ideas takes root and keeps growing.
Let’s hope that the people inside the Education Department with a commitment to non-profit, publicly-funded education continue to telegraph DeVos’ most radical intentions well in advance of her being able to ram them into being as public policy so they can be opposed and shot down before more permanent damage to the nation’s education system can be enacted.