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Trump and DeVos Announce New Hires at Education Department

By Alyson Klein — June 06, 2017 3 min read
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President Donald Trump has tapped Peter Oppenheim, a top aide to Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., to serve as the assistant secretary for congressional affairs at the U.S. Department of Education. His nomination will need Senate sign-off.

At the same time, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has announced two new hires for positions that don’t require Senate approval: Kimberly Richey, as a deputy assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services, and Adam Kissel, as deputy assistant secretary for higher education programs. Kissel most recently served as a program officer for higher education at the Charles Koch Foundation, which advocates for conservative policies. (More on both of them below).

Oppenheim was one of just two Alexander aides that took the lead on writing the Every Student Succeeds Act. He has a reputation for being able to work across the aisle. He’ll be the administration’s point person when it comes to selling its budget request—which includes significant cuts to K-12 programs—as well as its school choice agenda, on Capitol Hill.

“Peter Oppenheim is the kind of hardworking and thoughtful person who knows how to get a result. He navigated some of the most difficult turns in the bill fixing No Child Left Behind, and helped us reach 85 votes in the senate. While I will be sorry to lose him from my staff, I know he will be a tremendous asset to Secretary DeVos and the Department of Education,” said Alexander in a statement.

Oppenheim joins Carlos Muñiz, who has been tapped as general counsel, as the only staffer to receive an official nomination from the White House for a sub-cabinet post. Allan Hubbard, who served as an economic adviser in both Bush administrations, was on the verge of being named as deputy secretary, but withdrew his name from consideration last week, telling WFYI in Indianapolis that complying with the requirements of the Government Ethics Office would have been a financial burden for his family.

Richey, meanwhile, most recently served as interim chief advocacy officer at the National School Boards Association. And before that, she served as general counsel in the Oklahoma education department. Former Oklahoma schools chief Janet Barresi raised eyebrows when she hired Richey’s husband, Larry Birney, whose primary experience has been in law enforcement, not K-12 education, to fill a new post at the state agency. Birney and Richey resigned shortly after Joy Hofmeister, the current state superintendent, came into office.

Richey also has experience at the U.S. Department of Education. From 2004 to 2009, she worked as a counselor to the assistant secretary in the office for civil rights, and was the acting chief of staff in the office of legislative and congressional affairs. And she’s a certified teacher. More in her NSBA bio.

Meanwhile, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., sharply criticized Kissel’s hiring. Kissel has worked at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an organization that’s been critical of sexual misconduct policies at a number of universities, including Columbia and Brown University, that he says favor the accuser at the expense of the accused. (See his interview with the New York Times on the subject here.)

His hiring could be a signal that the Trump administration intends to roll back Obama-era policies governing sexual assault on college campuses, Murray said in a statement.

“I am deeply troubled this hire is another concerning sign that President Trump plans to make it more difficult for survivors of campus sexual violence to get justice. Campus sexual violence is an urgent public health threat nationwide, and rolling back steps that have empowered more survivors of sexual violence to come forward will only send this problem back into the shadows,” she said. “If there was ever a President who needed to take issues of sexual assault more seriously, it’s President Trump—and this is yet another indication his Administration is falling disturbingly short.”