Education Dept. disputes 'illegal email' claims, stops short of full denial
The Department of Education is rejecting allegations that its employees illegally conducted official business on private, non-archived e-mail accounts but without issuing an outright denial that such accounts could have been used.
An independent watchdog, Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, accused the department of violating federal record-keeping laws because employees exchanged e-mails regarding a reading program from accounts not maintained by the department. CREW representatives said a department official and an attorney in its office of general counsel told them about the private e-mail accounts, but a department spokeswoman Katherine McLane released a statement late Wednesday calling the assertion "inaccurate."
"(CREW lawyer Dan) Roth's portrayal of the conversation is simply wrong on very important facts," McLane said in a prepared statement sent to RAW STORY late Tuesday. "...No one at the Department suggested that officials use private e-mail accounts for official business during those conversations."
McLane also noted department policy "does not allow access to most outside web-based email from its computer system," but her statement does not explicitly deny that department officials conducted government business on private accounts. Calls to McLane seeking clarification were not immediately returned Thursday.
CREW was seeking e-mails and other correspondence between department officials, the White House and educational publishers related to the Reading First program that is part of President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act. A Congressional report released earlier this month found conflicts of interest within the program. Government contractors hired to promote the reading program were drawing paychecks from educational publishers whose material they were selling school districts as part of the government initiative, the Associated Press reported at the time.
The congressional report, which was released by Sen. Edward Kennedy, (D-MA), has led to the resignation of one contractor, Edward Kame'enui. The report showed Kame'enui earned hundreds of thousands of dollars of royalties from publisher Pearson/Scott Foresman while he was assisting states in implementing Reading First, and most of the royalties he earned came from products sold to states and school districts in conjunction with the program.
"Secretary Spellings must do all she can to assure Americans that those who are involved in administering public contracts and providing technical assistance to states are not put in a position to evaluate or promote programs when they conflict with their own financial interests,” Kennedy said in a statement today reacting to the resignation.