Watchdog group says Education Dept. official has had 'substantial' coordination with teacher's union

Former NEA official "almost immediately" began corresponding with group upon joining ED.

Updated: December 2, 2022 - 12:40pm

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A government watchdog group claims that a high-raking U.S. Department of Education official has engaged in substantial coordination and collaboration with members of the largest teacher's union in the country. 

The group Protect the Public Trust said in a Thursday filing addressed to Education Department Inspector General Sandra Bruce that ED Deputy Chief of Staff Donna Harris-Aiken may have been "providing privileged access and undue influence in ED’s policymaking process to her former employer, the National Education Association."

The NEA is the largest teacher's union in the country and a significant force in much of American education policy. Protect the Public Trust said in its filing that Harris-Aikens appears to have "systematically violated the ethical obligations" incumbent upon her in her position by collaborating with the NEA. 

The group cited several communications it said it recovered through a Freedom of Information Act request. In one instance Harris-Aikens reached out to two high-ranking officials at both the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers and told them she "“wanted to make sure you both have an opportunity to hear directly from the Department before any public activity.”

In another she sought to coordinate a time to "brief" both groups about "advance knowledge about unreleased documents" from the federal government. 

In its request to Bruce, Protect the Public Trust argued that "the American public deserves to be assured that political appointees are carrying out their duties in an ethical, impartial manner without favoritism toward their former employers."

The group asked Bruce to "begin an immediate and thorough investigation into Ms. Harris-Aikens’ ongoing relationship with her former employer."

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