The (Temporary?) U.S. Education Team

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos makes first official announcement of key aides, many of them in acting capacities and including some controversial choices.

April 13, 2017
 
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Senator Lamar Alexander

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced the hiring of nine senior staff members Wednesday, including an acting under secretary with significant experience working on student aid and postsecondary issues.

The hiring of most of the individuals in the announcement had previously been discussed publicly, but it was the first official announcement from DeVos about who would fill key staff positions. Like other federal agencies in the Trump administration, the Department of Education has gone nearly three months without naming appointees to a number of political positions.

James Manning, who was named senior adviser to the under secretary and acting under secretary of education, was picked last November to lead the Trump "beachhead" team at the department -- the group appointed by the incoming administration to assist with the transition at each federal agency. Manning has experience as a department official going back to the Carter administration, last serving as acting chief operating officer of federal student aid. As acting under secretary, Manning would be the most senior official in the department after DeVos.

Rohit Chopra, the former student loans ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said Manning is experienced and fair-minded.

"He knows the Office of Federal Student Aid inside and out, which has been a trillion-dollar headache for many an education secretary," said Chopra, who also served as a special adviser to former Education Secretary John B. King Jr. "I hope his role signals that cleaning up loan servicing and debt collection will be a top priority."

The hires announced included others with deep experience in education policy, as well as more controversial picks.

The addition of Rob Eitel, who was named senior counselor to the secretary Wednesday, was the subject of media scrutiny last month after it was reported that he had taken a leave of absence from for-profit college chain Bridgepoint Education Inc. to serve as a special assistant to DeVos. Eitel had been the chief compliance officer at Bridgepoint, which would be affected by the department's approach to regulations such as borrower defense and gainful employment.

Other hires announced Wednesday included:

  • Josh Venable, chief of staff
  • Dougie Simmons, deputy chief of staff for operations
  • Ebony Lee, deputy chief of staff for policy
  • Jana Toner, White House liaison
  • Jose Viana, assistant deputy secretary and director for the Office of English Language Acquisition
  • Jason Botel, deputy assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education and acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education.

Senate approval would be required only for the assistant secretary position.

The appointment of Candice Jackson as deputy assistant secretary in the Office for Civil Rights has stirred concerns among advocates for victims of sexual assault. Jackson staked out a public image as a supporter of women who accused former President Bill Clinton of assault. Last year, however, she called the women who accused President Trump of harassment and assault "fake victims." Jackson was also named acting assistant secretary. The "acting" designation for Jackson, Botel and Manning would allow them to initially fill those roles without Senate approval.

Brenda Tracy, an activist on sexual assault issues and a member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Commission to Combat Campus Sexual Violence, said the appointment of Jackson felt like "the rug being pulled out from under us" for advocates of Title IX protections.

"It just feels like a slap in the face," she said. "It's disheartening to know you don’t have the support of your government behind you."

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