DeVos’ Inspector General to Audit Dismissals of Civil Rights Complaints

The review could shed light on the Education Department’s reluctance, documented by a series of ProPublica articles, to investigate alleged discrimination by school districts and colleges.

The Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Education has announced that it is scrutinizing how the department handles civil rights complaints, potentially fueling a debate over the Trump administration’s scaled-back vigilance on a hot-button issue.

Under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the department has pulled back from the Obama administration’s emphasis on investigating allegations of systemic civil rights violations by school districts and colleges, instead focusing its attention on individual complaints of mistreatment, as ProPublica has reported in a series of articles.

According to its annual report released Wednesday, one of the inspector general’s priorities is determining whether the department’s civil rights division has been appropriately dismissing discrimination complaints in accordance with federal policies and procedures. OIG reviews typically assess the efficiency, effectiveness and integrity of department operations and look for fraud, waste or abuse.

“The audit is currently underway and we hope to be done in 2019,” said Catherine Grant, a public affairs liaison for the office, which is an independent entity within the department that audits federal programs and investigates internal fraud.

Grant declined to discuss details of the audit, citing a longstanding policy put “in place to protect and maintain the integrity of our efforts.” The department’s inspector general, Kathleen S. Tighe, has served in that position since 2010, and she has spent most of her career in the federal government ferreting out fraud.

Catherine Lhamon, who led the department’s civil rights office from August 2013 until January 2017 and currently chairs the United States Commission on Civil Rights, said that the new audit is badly needed.

“External oversight seems more than warranted given the high dismissal rates and OCR’s whipsawing on its authority not to investigate topics Congress specifically charged it to protect,” Lhamon said. “Students deserve better from their government.”

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