Shining a light on White House visitors
As a result of a lawsuit brought by Public Citizen in 2017, the government in April 2018 began posting visitor logs for four agencies in the White House complex: the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy, the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality and the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy. Pursuant to the settlement of our lawsuit, visitor logs for these agencies are posted online monthly, so the public can learn who is trying to influence federal policy.
Protecting students and teachers with student loans
To address significant evidence of wrongdoing by for-profit colleges, the U.S. Department of Education under President Barack Obama issued “the Borrower Defense rule”—a regulation that revised the process for students to seek discharge of their federal student loans if their schools are found to have committed fraud. The rule also mandates the automatic discharge of loans for students who cannot complete their education because the school shuts down, requires schools to make certain disclosures to potential students, and prohibits schools that receive federal funds from imposing forced arbitration provisions and class-action waivers on student borrowers – provisions that prevent students from holding schools accountable in court either individually or as a group.
The Trump administration, under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, delayed implementation of these protections. So Public Citizen, working with the Project on Predatory Student Lending, stepped in, filing a lawsuit on behalf of two students who attended the New England Institute of Art and were left with unmanageable debt and few job opportunities. In September, a federal court ruled that the administration acted illegally when it delayed the Borrower Defense rule. The rule then took effect on October.
Public Citizen and the Project on Predatory Student Lending also represented those students as intervenors in a lawsuit seeking to defend the Borrower Defense rule against a lawsuit brought by a trade group representing for-profit colleges. That challenge is pending.
Public Citizen also helped protect teachers who participate in the U.S. Department of Education TEACH Grant program. These grants are available to college students who seek to teach in high-need fields in low-income schools. The grants may convert to federal loans if students do not fulfill a teaching service requirement after graduation.
Prompted by an email from a teacher whose grant had been improperly converted to a loan, Public Citizen obtained through the Freedom of Information Act records demonstrating that one of the department’s loan servicers erroneously converted more than 10,000 recipients’ grants to loans. Numerous media outlets, including NPR, reported on our finding.
We sued the department in March 2018 after it refused to hand over additional documents regarding mismanagement of the grants or the department’s efforts to address erroneous conversions. As a result of the litigation, Public Citizen obtained more documents showing how the Education Department mishandled the program, and we used the documents to prepare an in-depth report on the problem. In December, the department announced changes that may help protect teachers in the program and may help certain recipients whose grants have been improperly converted to loans.
- In February, Public Citizen filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on behalf of 4 grant recipients alleging that HHS illegally terminated five-year grants previously awarded by HHS under the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program. After the court issued a strong ruling in favor of our clients in April, we filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Healthy Futures of Texas and 61 other grant recipients whose grants HHS was also trying to terminate 2 years early. In June, the ordered HHS to reinstate those grants as well.
- In May, Public Citizen collaborated with six other groups to urge the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to review the Trump administration’s plans to roll back fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards, also called clean car standards.
- In July, Public Citizen, representing itself and two other organizations, sued the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for refusing to implement its electronic recordkeeping rule. That rule requires certain employers to submit to OSHA information on worker illness and injury that is important to protecting worker health and safety. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied OSHA’s motion to dismiss the case. Our motion for summary judgment seeking an order to compel OSHA to implement the rule is pending.
- In August, on behalf of four agricultural workers and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, a farmworker labor union, Public Citizen sued the U.S. Department of Labor over the improper approval of substandard wages for migrant farm workers. The complaint explains that the government has allowed employers hiring foreign workers through the H-2A program to pay those workers, and U.S. workers, a wage less than the wage required by law.