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Reagan Task Force Divided on Fate of US Agency

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Reagan Administration officials charged with developing a legislative proposal to dismantle the Education Department are in sharp disagreement over the agency's future structure, sources close to the situation said last week.

The sources said that a task force of officials, including Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell, Deputy Undersecretary Gary L. Jones, and officials of the White House and the Office of Management and Budget, have been unable to reach agreement on the components of a sub-cabinet-level federal education office.

Deliberates Over Proposal

The group, which was scheduled to make its recommendation to President Reagan more than a week ago, reportedly cannot decide whether to accept Secretary Bell's proposal to turn the department into a foundation, structured like the National Science Foundation, or to disburse the department's functions to other agencies, while creating a position for a presidential adviser on education issues.

The task force was scheduled to meet again last Friday in an attempt to reach agreement. Sources said that the team of officials from the budget office, headed by Edwin L. Harper, the deputy budget director, supported the foundation concept.

White House officials, including Martin Anderson, assistant to the President for policy development, and Edwin Meese III, counselor to the President, were said to prefer eliminating the federal education office entirely.

Two other options, which were examined by Mr. Bell in an Aug. 4 memorandum to President Reagan, are said to have been rejected by the task force. The group reportedly is against merging education with the Department of Health and Human Services—recreating the former Department of Health, Education, and Welfare—because Secretary Bell has threatened to resign rather than accept that proposal.

The other option, creating a sub-cabinet-level agency, is said to have little support among members of the group because such a structure would imply that the federal government regards education as its "mission." That would be contrary to the the Administration's stated concept of "federalism," which holds that education is a state and local responsibility.

Although the task force has not yet formulated a bill to submit to Congress, the Administration al3ready is working to line up support in the Senate.

A staff member in the office of Senator Dan Quayle, Republican of Indiana, said that Mr. Quayle was asked last week if he would be willing to introduce the Administration's bill.

The aide said Senator Quayle has completed work on his own bill, for which he has been trying, so far without success, to gain support from the President. The bill would disburse most Education Department offices to other federal agencies, leaving an "education assistance agency."

Bill Differs from Proposals

The bill differs radically from the education foundation recommended by Secretary Bell to the President last summer, especially in its treatment of the National Center for Education Statistics and the National6Institute of Education.

Although Mr. Bell's memorandum to President Reagan listed education research and statistics-gathering as important functions of a federal education office, Mr. Quayle would merge the research institute with the National Science Foundation and would send the statistics center to the Commerce Department.

Mr. Bell recently backed away from his previous support of a national education foundation. In testimony before a House Appropriations subcommittee last month, he refused to disclose which of the four options spelled out in his original memorandum he preferred.

In response to a query from Representative John E. Porter, Republican of Illinois, as to his preference, the Secretary said, "It's better to defer, waiting until President Reagan decides."

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