Betsy DeVos’s Hiring of For-Profit College Official Raises Ethical Issues
As chief compliance officer for a corporate owner of for-profit colleges, Robert S. Eitel spent the past 18 months as a legal point man for a company facing multiple government investigations, including one that ended with a settlement of more than $30 million over deceptive student lending.
Today, Mr. Eitel — on an unpaid leave of absence — is working as a special assistant to the new secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, whose department is setting out to roll back regulations governing the scandal-walloped for-profit college sector.
His new role, which has not been announced publicly, could bump up against federal rules involving conflicts of interest and impartiality, ethics experts said, particularly given his position as a vice president for regulatory legal services at Bridgepoint Education Inc., an operator of for-profit colleges, during federal investigations into the company.
“It raises considerable red flags, especially due to the fact that this company was under investigation,” said Scott H. Amey, general counsel at the Project on Government Oversight, a nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative group.
Mr. Eitel, an Education Department lawyer under President George W. Bush, has been a stalwart critic of federal regulation of both for-profit colleges and K-12 education under the Obama administration.
A department spokesman, who requested anonymity, said Mr. Eitel is part of a “beachhead” team, paid staff members who are temporarily helping to lead federal agencies as the Trump administration gets up and running but do not require Senate confirmation.
Mr. Eitel has conferred several times with the agency’s ethics officer, the spokesman said, and will recuse himself from any policy decisions or discussions related to Bridgepoint and another former employer, Career Education Corporation. While on unpaid leave from Bridgepoint, the spokesman said, Mr. Eitel has also volunteered to recuse himself from weighing in on the department’s “gainful employment” regulation, which is intended to hold career schools accountable for their job placement records and is particularly despised by the industry.
Mr. Eitel does have a voice on other issues and regulations that affect the for-profit college sector, however.
The spokesman would not comment on the prospects for a longer-term role for Mr. Eitel, who served as deputy general counsel from 2006 to 2009. Some jobs he could potentially be a candidate for — such as general counsel — would require Senate confirmation.
Mr. Eitel did not respond to repeated requests for an interview, and Betsy DeVos’s Hiring of For-Profit College Official Raises Ethical Issues - The New York Times: