New Hires Fill Some Empty Spots at Education Department

By Alyson Klein — April 17, 2017 4 min read
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U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has announced a slate of hires for key positions in the Department of Education—many of whom have been working in the agency since the beginning of the Trump administration in unofficial capacities.

Only one of these appointees has received a formal nomination from the White House and will need Senate confirmation. But some will be serving in an “acting” capacity in positions that they could be formally nominated to later, although there is no guarentee they will be.

For instance, Candice Jackson, who previously worked as a lawyer in private practice in Vancouver, Wash., will be a deputy assistant secretary in the office for civil rights and acting assistant secretary. Neither position requires Senate confirmation, but if Jackson were to be nominated as assistant secretary, she would need Senate approval.

Jackson is likely to prove the most controversial of the latest appointees. She is the author of a 2005 book, Their Lives: Women Targeted by the Clinton Machine, that focused on women who said they were harassed or intimidated by President Bill Clinton and his supporters, and highlighted instances in which Clinton was accused of sexually assaulting them. She also coordinated a public event featuring several of these women during the 2016 presidential contest against Hillary Clinton, with then-candidate Donald Trump’s support.

Her prospective appointment to the top position at the agency overseeing students’ civil rights protections has left some advocates jittery.

Liz King, the director of education policy for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, is hoping the Senate will take a hard look at Jackson if she is officially nominated for the assistant secretary post. “We just don’t have very much information” about her and her background, King said. “We have not heard of a long-standing commitment to federal civil rights and dignity of every student in the United States.”

Jason Botel, a former charter school operator who had been serving as a senior White House adviser, will be a deputy assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education and will serve as acting assistant secretary of that office, which is likely to play a central role in overseeing implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Botel does not need Senate confirmation for this acting role, but would need Senate approval to officially take over the office.

Filling the Boxes

The personnel announcements—and particularly, the selection of Botel as the acting assistant secretary for the office that most directly oversees K-12 policy—"is a clear sign that Secretary DeVos and her team know they have important official [business], especially on ESSA implementation, that must get underway,” said Andy Smarick, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank that has received donations from DeVos and her family.

Nine states and the District of Columbia earlier this month turned in their plans to implement the law, and a half-dozen more are on the way. The department has about three months to respond.

Among other new hires:

• James Manning, tapped as a senior adviser to the undersecretary and acting undersecretary, a key position for higher education. If Manning were officially nominated as undersecretary, he would need Senate confirmation. Manning previously served as chief of staff to Deputy Secretary William Hansen during Presdent George W. Bush’s administration. In that role, Manning helped oversee federal student-financial-aid programs. Later, Manning served in the Obama administration as acting chief operating officer of student financial aid.

• One person has been officially nominated by the White House to a Senate-confirmable post: Carlos Muñiz, named as general counsel. Muñiz was most recently a senior vice president at the consulting firm McGuire Woods and was the deputy state attorney general and chief of staff to Pam Bondi, Florida’s attorney general; Bondi is a Trump ally. Before that, he was deputy general counsel under former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

• Josh Venable, chosen as chief of staff, worked in politics in DeVos’ home state of Michigan. He was also the national director of advocacy and legislation at the Foundation for Education Excellence, a research and advocacy organization started by Jeb Bush.

• Ebony Lee, picked as as a deputy chief of staff for policy, worked in the office for innovation and improvement during the Bush administration, from 2005 to 2007. Since then, she has been focused on charter policy at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

• Jana Toner was named as White House liaison, a position she also held during the George W. Bush administration.

• Robert Eitel, named as a senior counsel to the secretary, most recently worked on regulatory issues for Bridgepoint Education, which runs for-profit universities. He also served as a deputy general counsel in the department under George W. Bush.

• Jose Viana, appointed as assistant deputy secretary and director of the office of English-language acquisition. Viana is a former elementary and middle school teacher and school administrator, who most recently served as North Carolina’s program administrator for migrant education.

A version of this article appeared in the April 19, 2017 edition of Education Week as New Hires Fill Empty Policy Spots at Ed. Dept.


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