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Bonamici Leads 164 Members in Demanding DeVos Return to the Bargaining Table

December 13, 2019
Press Release

 

WASHINGTON, DC [12/13/19] – Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Chair of the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services, led 164 of her colleagues in calling on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to revoke an imposed contract and return to the bargaining table.

 

The Members expressed concern about DeVos’ implementation of a non-bargained Collective Bargaining Agreement with AFGE Council 252, which represents the employees at the Department of Education. The members wrote that they had learned of “new and disturbing” hiring processes and program administration within Federal Student Aid (FSA) and the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), including the Department designating positions for FSA as “administratively determined” to avoid typical hiring structures, and failing to hire employees for open positions in OCR.

 

“The Department did not discuss or bargain for these changes and decisions with AFGE, and we are concerned that the hiring process is now insulated from appropriate accountability and transparency,” the Members wrote. “Additionally, this appears to signal an intention to privatize the oversight and administration of federal student loan programs, potentially costing student loan borrowers greater sums of money, threatening their credit ratings, and making the rules governing for-profit institutions and lenders less transparent.”

 

The Members called for answers about why the Department hasn’t hired staff for OCR or used the funds that were allocated by Congress for that purpose.

 

“Despite high caseloads and staff attrition that has increased during this Administration, few positions have been allocated and even fewer have been filled in OCR,” the Members wrote. “The hiring practices in OCR and the apparent diversion of appropriated funds intended to address the case backlog raise questions about how the Department is addressing cases involving serious and often widespread violations of civil rights in incidents of sexual harassment and racial discrimination. Specifically, we are concerned that OCR senior management has interfered with the regional offices’ normal processing of its cases and also asserted political authority to narrow decisions and limit remedies.”

 

The full letter can be found here and below.

 

December 12, 2019

 

The Honorable Betsy DeVos

Secretary of Education

United States Department of Education

400 Maryland Avenue, SW, Room 7W301

Washington DC, 20202

 

Dear Secretary DeVos:

 

Last year, Members of Congress urged the Department of Education (the Department) to return to the bargaining table to negotiate in good faith with AFGE Council 252 (AFGE) for a fair and equitable contract. The Members outlined concerns about your priorities within the Department and the unilateral imposition of a non-bargained “Collective Bargaining Agreement” (Management Edict) as implemented more than a year ago in March 2018. Since then, we have learned of new and disturbing hiring practices and policies that were adopted without AFGE input and which require an immediate and thorough response from your office. Specifically, we are concerned with hiring practices and program administration within Federal Student Aid (FSA) and the Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

 

It is our understanding that the Department is hiring new FSA employees outside of typical Department hiring structures. Instead, the Department has deemed certain positions to be “administratively determined,” and therefore not posted to USAJobs or open for application by Department employees. The Department did not discuss or bargain for these changes and decisions with AFGE, and we are concerned that the hiring process is now insulated from appropriate accountability and transparency. Additionally, this appears to signal an intention to privatize the oversight and administration of federal student loan programs, potentially costing student loan borrowers greater sums of money, threatening their credit ratings, and making the rules governing for-profit institutions and lenders less transparent.

 

Despite high caseloads and staff attrition that has increased during this Administration, few positions have been allocated and even fewer have been filled in OCR. Congress recognized the importance of hiring more OCR staff and explicitly directed the Department to do so in the 2018 appropriation explanatory statement.[1] Reports indicate that hiring to date has been extremely slow and inefficient, and as a result, has not even kept pace with attrition. The Department’s refusal to adequately staff OCR is inexcusable, especially when compared with its rapid, unrestrained hiring at FSA.  

 

The hiring practices in OCR and the apparent diversion of appropriated funds intended to address the case backlog raise questions about how the Department is addressing cases involving serious and often widespread violations of civil rights in incidents of sexual harassment and racial discrimination. Specifically, we are concerned that OCR senior management has interfered with the regional offices’ normal processing of its cases and also asserted political authority to narrow decisions and limit remedies.

 

We raise these concerns because your imposition of the Management Edict, including the elimination of the Department’s requirement to consult with AFGE before making agency-wide decisions and subsequent hiring and policy changes, significantly affects the rights of Department employees. More importantly, these actions negatively affect the quality of services the Department provides to students, school districts, vocational programs, and colleges and universities.

 

With this letter, we demand that you revoke your unilateral Management Edict and return to the bargaining table with AFGE Local 252 to negotiate in good faith a collectively bargained contract. Additionally, please provide a response by January 9, 2020 to the following requests:

 

  • Please provide us with a report of all positions (with descriptions) hired for FSA in the past year; whether these positions were administratively determined, posted to USAJobs, or open to Department employees; and whether these positions are full-time, part-time, or contract.
  • Please provide us a report explaining all OCR attorney and Equal Opportunity Specialist (EOS) attrition since the Management Edict was issued, and identify which positions remain unfilled and the timeline for filling these positions.
  • Please provide an accounting of the use of all funds designated for staff hiring for OCR since March 2018, and the extent to which those funds have been used for other purposes, including overtime, training, travel, and supplies or other materials.
  • Please provide us all information circulated to OCR staff regarding which cases are subject to review by OCR headquarters and the criteria for such review. 

 

We appreciate your prompt attention to this matter.

 

 

Sincerely,