Education Secretary Betsy DeVos used personal email for official business on a “limited” number of occasions, according to a report released Monday by the department’s inspector general.
The report found fewer than 100 emails sent or received to personal accounts between Jan. 20, 2017, when President Trump took office, and April 10, 2018. It said most messages were in the first six months of 2017, from a single writer offering advice on potential candidates for agency positions. The writer, who was not identified, also included other department employees on his or her messages, using their official government email addresses.
“The Department’s policy prohibits its employees from using personal accounts to conduct government business, except for exceptional circumstances when their Department email accounts are unavailable,” the report said.
The report also flagged the department’s failure to produce emails from DeVos’s private accounts in response to one request under the Freedom of Information Act.
Use of personal email has been a political flash point since 2015, when former secretary of state Hillary Clinton came under intense criticism and was subject to a criminal investigation for her exclusive use of a private email account for official State Department business. The issue dogged her unsuccessful presidential campaign to the end.
The findings regarding DeVos were less dramatic.
A department spokeswoman, Liz Hill, did not immediately reply to a request for comment, but she said on Twitter that any coverage of the matter was overblown.
“I get ‘DeVos + Personal Email’ gets clicks but receiving fewer than 100 emails and then forwarding them to senior staff to ensure they are captured on our government email server is hardly news,” she wrote.
The Education Department’s inspector general also surveyed 51 political appointees in the department and found 40 had used personal email or messaging accounts at some point for government business. Reasons included technical difficulties with government equipment, needing to print documents when away from the office, conducting work after hours and receiving communications from colleagues they had worked with before joining the agency.
The report said agency policies do not specify what constitutes the sort of “exceptional circumstance” that would justify the use of personal email or messaging, and suggested improving training to offer clarity.
The report was requested by Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.), who chairs the education subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. She said in a statement she was pleased that the Office of Inspector General completed the report.
“I expect the department to swiftly improve its policies and training in the areas where the OIG found deficiencies,” DeLauro said.