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By Heidi Przybyla
WASHINGTON – Democrats in the House and Senate say they have received evidence that a senior official from the Ministry of Education has attempted to overthrow his independent watchdog after rebuffing an attempt to interfere in an active investigation by the state. secretary Betsy DeVos.
Legislators of four Senate and House committees responsible for overseeing the ministry sent a letter to DeVos on Tuesday, suggesting that efforts to replace the acting Acting Inspector General of the Ministry, Sandra Bruce, were to his supervisory duties investigating the decision of DeVos to reinstate ACICS. the creditor who had been stripped of his certification by the Obama administration.
"We have now received a correspondence between the department and the (Office of the Inspector General) which reveals the troubling efforts of the department to influence the ACICS investigation," wrote DeVos, Bobby Scott, Chair of the House Training and Labor Committee.
Representative Elijah Cummings, D-MD, Chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee joined Scott; Representative Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., Who sits on the House Appropriations Committee; and Senator of Washington, Patty Murray, the highest democrat of the Senate Committee on Education.
Earlier this month, following the publication of the effort to demote Bruce, the department overturned its decision to replace Bruce with a hand-picked official, who would act as the agency's acting watchdog, after criticism that the designation would create a serious conflict of interest.
Inspectors General exercise independent oversight within federal departments and agencies to protect them from the influence of power appointees to represent taxpayers.
In this case, Scott quotes a letter dated January 3, sent to Bruce by the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Education, Mitchell Zais. In the letter, Zais reportedly wrote that, according to Scott, it was "disturbing" that Bruce continues the ACICS investigation and "asks him to reconsider any plan" to review the department's decision to reinstate his certification.
Scott told Bruce that "Bruce has announced his intention to continue" the investigation and "stressed the importance of maintaining the independence of the department". A few weeks later, Zais informed Bruce that she would be removed from office.
NBC News has not reviewed the correspondence between Zais and Bruce. A spokesman for Scott said his office was not allowed to publish it for the moment.
The exchange between Zais and Bruce described in Scott's letter highlights a concern expressed by a number of federal agencies that the Trump administration is attempting to blur what is supposed to be a clear line of cabinet and independent investigative weapons that exist policies, driving and the use of taxpayer money.
In October, the White House sought to replace the agency's oversight service at the Department of the Interior, which was conducting two investigations on then secretary, Ryan Zinke.
ACICS accredited two large for-profit colleges, ITT Tech and Corinthian College, before they were both closed due to the Obama administration's lawsuits, investigations, and sanctions against the deceptive hiring, poor quality programs and other offenses.
The Obama Administration has also withdrawn ACICS recognition, citing a "deep lack of compliance" with the "most basic" responsibilities of an accreditation officer.
DeVos has been screened for hiring a number of people who, in the past, have worked or lobbied on behalf of for-profit colleges and are now canceling the Obama era rules aimed at curbing a industry with a history of misleading students and poor academic results.
Department of Education spokeswoman Liz Hill told NBC News that a response to Scott's letter would be sent.
Previously, explaining DeVos 'decision to restore ACICS' accreditation, Hill noted that the Obama administration had not reviewed 36,000 pages of documents related to ACICS's request to continue to be accredited accredited. This lack of revision, Hill said, led a federal court to remit the decision to DeVos, which reinstated the accreditation.
Late last month, DeVos told a meeting of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities that the ministry was to withdraw its supervision of college accreditation, claiming that it had become "too expensive" and that the federal government "exceeded its test objectives". do things that are really better to leave to the accreditors, "according to Politico.