Education Department official hit with ethics complaint for close ties to teachers union

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Education Department official hit with ethics complaint for close ties to teachers union

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EXCLUSIVE — A senior Education Department official who previously worked for the National Education Association was hit with an ethics complaint on Thursday surrounding her ongoing relationship with the nation’s largest teachers union.

Protect the People’s Trust, a government ethics watchdog, filed the complaint Thursday against Education Department deputy chief of staff Donna Harris-Aikens, alleging that she had improperly coordinated and communicated with the NEA, where she had previously been employed.


“Almost from the moment she joined the Department, Ms. Harris-Aikens appears to have systematically violated the ethical obligations under the Biden Administration Ethics Pledge and applicable federal ethics regulations through her interactions with her previous employer, the NEA,” the complaint letter to Education Department Inspector General Sandra Bruce says. “The frequency, depth, and tone of Ms. Harris- Aikens coordination with the NEA makes it worryingly unclear whether her role representing the NEA’s interests truly ended when she joined the ED.”

The Biden administration ethics pledge says all political appointees will not participate “in any particular matter involving specific parties” that are “directly and substantially related” to an appointee’s “former employer or former clients.”

The pledge defines such matters as “any meeting or other communication relating to the performance of one’s official duties with a former employer or former client, unless the communication applies to a particular matter of general applicability and participating in the meeting or other event is open to all interested parties.”

The watchdog group says they discovered Harris-Aikens’s coordination with her former employer through Freedom of Information Act requests, which revealed communications dating back to the first days of the Biden administration in January 2021.

The most notable interaction between Harris-Aikens and the NEA came in February 2021, when she provided the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers with a briefing and an embargoed copy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention policy documents. In 2021, it was reported that the unions had heavily influenced the CDC’s guidance on reopening schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement to the Washington Examiner, Michael Chamberlain, the director of Protect the People’s Trust and a former Education Department official, noted the union’s influence on the formulation of government policy on COVID-19 and the potential ethics violations by Harris-Aikens.

“It appears the CDC and Department of Ed were so eager to bow to the teachers unions’ wishes to keep schools closed last year that they ignored ethics laws and the Biden Administration’s own ethics pledge to do so,” Chamberlain said. “Sadly, many parents won’t be surprised. At a time when the academic health as well as the psychological and social-emotional well-being of students were relegated to the backseat, dedication to ethics obligations was evidently stuffed in the trunk.”


The Education Department inspector general will have the option to investigate the complaint and determine whether or not an ethics violation took place. Consequences for ethics violations can range from no action to dismissal to criminal prosecution.

The Education Department did not respond to a request for comment.

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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