Education Department Staff Has Shrunk by 13% in Trump Era

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies during a Senate hearing about the department's funding on June 5. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies during a Senate hearing about the department's funding on June 5. Carolyn Kaster/AP

Through attrition, policy shifts and a non-urgent hiring strategy, the Education Department under Betsy DeVos now operates with 550 fewer employees than it had under the Obama administration, a new analysis shows.

The 13 percent drop, according to former officials, “means employees are stretched thin,” as reported on Wednesday by the education trade publication Inside Higher Ed.

“If you’re going to make a case to hire more people, you better have a really good reason,” DeVos recently told TV interviewer John Stossel as they walked by empty desks.

Department officials attribute the cuts to attrition and voluntary early retirement, not policy decisions. “There are natural fluctuations in staff during the transition to a new administration,” said Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the department, in an email to reporter Andrew Kreighbaum. “The department continues to assess its staffing needs and will backfill positions or will hire for newly created positions based on those needs.”

But the new numbers also emerged as DeVos has pursued deregulatory policies opposed by many career and Obama administration officials, among them cutbacks in the cases pursued by the department’s Office for Civil Rights and the Office of Federal Student Aid. Just last week, the secretary overruled staff recommendations and reinstated a controversial accreditation body for independent colleges and universities after an unfavorable court decision. She also temporarily halted student debt relief to students defrauded by the now-defunct private Corinthian Colleges trade school.

Finally, her management team recently forced through a new labor-management agreement that curbed union official time and employee protections, including telework.

The department spokeswoman said there is a hiring plan built around congressional appropriations.

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