Murray, Warren Question Department of Education Official’s Ties, Conflicts of Interest with For-Profit College Chain

Murray: “The Department’s policies related to higher education… directly and substantially impact Bridgepoint, raising questions about how Mr. Eitel has addressed conflicts of interest between his employment at Bridgepoint and work at the Department”

Warren: “My concerns about Mr. Eitel’s arrangement have been exacerbated by one of [Secretary DeVos’s] first major higher education actions…[Secretary DeVos] delayed critical deadlines related to the Department’s implementation of Gainful Employment regulations-regulations that Bridgepoint has acknowledged could pose a negative impact to the company’s enrollment, finances, and operations.”

Washington, D.C. -Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sent letters to the U.S. Department of Education yesterday questioning Robert Eitel’s involvement at the Department of Education while on a leave of absence from his position as Vice President of Bridgepoint Education, Inc. Senator Murray requested the Department’s Designated Agency Ethics Official respond to a series of questions ensuring that Mr. Eitel had taken the proper steps to remove himself from any conflicts of interest. Senator Warren’s letter to Secretary DeVos questioned Eitel’s involvement in multiple rules that could directly benefit Bridgepoint.

“The Department’s policies related to higher education-including compliance requirements for colleges and universities-directly and substantially impact Bridgepoint, raising questions about how Mr. Eitel has addressed conflicts of interest between his employment at Bridgepoint and work at the Department and how he plans to comply with the requirements of federal ethics laws,” wrote Senator Murray.

“By the company’s own admission, the new borrower defense to repayment rules, which Mr. Eitel may be working on, will have a significant, material, and direct impact on the financial condition and reputation of his current employer,” wrote Senator Warren. “If Mr. Eitel is indeed working on the new borrower defense to repayment regulations or any pending claims for relief under the current borrower defense to repayment process, then the Department’s blatant disregard for federal conflict of interest rules and guidelines as they relate to Mr. Eitel’s arrangement would be baffling.”

Bridgepoint Education, Inc. is a for-profit college chain currently under active investigation for potential misrepresentations and improper accounting by the U.S. Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the state attorneys general of California and Massachusetts. Bridgepoint has also previously been fined more than $23 million by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for allegedly deceiving students about the cost of their private student loans, and has been fined by the Department for incorrect and late refunds.

Read Senator Murray’s letter here, and read Senator Warren’s letter here.

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