American Oversight Sues Education Department for Borrower Defense Records

Watchdog Seeks Emails with Lobbyists, For-Profit Colleges, White House, and Congress

American Oversight today sued the Department of Education (ED) to shed light on the agency’s decision to cut back on debt relief for defrauded student borrowers. This is the watchdog’s tenth suit in its Parallel Investigations Initiative, targeting documents that are also likely to be the subject of congressional investigations.

“Betsy DeVos’ Education Department is the poster child for regulatory capture, time and again acting against the interests of the students it should protect,” said Austin Evers, Executive Director of American Oversight. “Why does DeVos repeatedly give for-profit colleges and predatory lending institutions a helping hand? The public should know who’s behind Education’s decision to gut rules that help Americans.”

Under the Trump administration, ED has moved to curtail debt relief and protections for student borrowers. In December 2017, DeVos announced a new system for relieving defrauded borrowers’ debt. The system was meant to take into account borrowers’ current earnings and any benefit they did gain from their educations, reducing debt forgiveness. A federal court blocked the plan in May 2018. DeVos has since announced another system for restricting debt relief by making loan forgiveness contingent on borrowers’ ability to prove their institutions knowingly defrauded them.

American Oversight’s suit is part of its Parallel Investigations Initiative, which targets records also likely to be the subject of impending congressional investigations. In September 2018, Senators Patty Murray and Dick Durbin criticized ED’s failure to provide relief to thousands of defrauded student borrowers.

ED failed to provide records in response to six of American Oversight’s Freedom of Information Act requests about the agency’s borrower defense policies, including:

  • Decision memos or policy guidance regarding the borrower defense rule;
  • Communications between ED and White House officials related to the borrower defense rule;
  • Communications between ED officials and members of Congress or their staff;
  • Communications between ED officials and for-profit schools and their representatives;
  • Communications between ED officials and lobbyists; and
  • Materials and communications related to ED’s Financial Responsibility Subcommittee meetings.

American Oversight has filed nine additional lawsuits that mirror probable congressional investigations. The watchdog yesterday sued the State Department to determine whether President Trump’s business interests have influenced agency policy, and on Wednesday sued State to uncover evidence of reported political retaliation. American Oversight also filed suits to shed light on the role that President Trump and the Trump Organization played in reversing a long-time plan to relocate the Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters outside of Washington, DC; to investigate the possibility that three members of the president’s Mar-a-Lago club have influenced policy at Veterans Affairs’ and the Department of Defense; and to uncover records detailing the administration’s failed response to hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico.

See the complaint below: