By:  Lauren Camera
Source: U.S. News & World Report

House Subpoenas DeVos Staff in Probe of For-Profit College

House Democrats subpoenaed three career staff members at the Education Department on Thursday as part of their ongoing investigation into the Trump administration's role in allowing Dream Center, the operator of two now-defunct for-profit colleges, to mislead students and continue operating the schools despite losing their accreditation.

Citing a U.S. News investigation into attempts by department officials to obstruct the investigation, Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott issued the subpoenas, arguing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and other high-ranking officials are deliberately sidetracking the oversight efforts by refusing to comply with their requests for information.

"Due to the Department's obstruction, the Committee's only available avenue to obtain an accurate understanding of the Department's role in the Dream Center collapse is to pursue depositions of the knowledgeable Department officials under subpoena," Scott, Virginia Democrat, wrote in a letter to DeVos alerting her to the subpoenas.

The investigation seemed to reach a breaking point in October 2019, when Scott and committee Democrats threatened to subpoena DeVos, lodging similar complaints over department officials stonewalling their investigation. But renewed commitment from DeVos and others to comply led House Democrats to back off. 

Now, it seems, even those negotiations have collapsed.

"The Department has obstructed the Committee at every turn," Scott wrote about attempts to obtain certain documents and transcribed interviews with various department personnel.

A 14-page log of communications between committee staff and department officials reviewed by U.S. News shows more than 100 instances of communication between the two parties haggling over access to information since the committee first launched the investigation into the department's handling of Dream Center in July 2019.

"The Department has regularly ignored the Committee's emails and requests to negotiate," Scott said. "The Department has repeatedly agreed to prioritize certain requested documents only to later abandon those commitments and instead produce unrelated documents as part of 'data dumps.'"

In the letter, Scott described a scenario in which department officials would move goalposts, add new hurdles, provide non-compliant or nominally compliant documents or renew on commitments entirely. 

"When the Department ultimately complied with agreements for production, it provided almost entirely redacted document sets without indicating why essential content was withheld," he wrote.

The Education Department, for its part, stands by its assertion that the agency did not favor the interests of Dream Center and has acted in good faith to comply with committee requests for documents and interviews.