Commentary

The Optimal Structural-Functional Recipe for Education Pie

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Washington education circles are spinning with talk about The Big Issue, namely what will become of the Department of Education during the administration of a President who has vowed to "dismantle" it. Apparently Mr. Reagan has in mind more than removing the carved shelf over Secretary Bell's fireplace but less than dynamiting the large, funny-looking government office building at 400 Maryland Avenue Southwest. But it's not yet clear what he has in mind, and judging from the endless rounds of meetings and floods of position papers and decision memoranda there is reason to suppose that Ed Meese has not yet even made up his mind.

Secretary Bell's celebrated 90-odd page memo of August 4 on the future federal role in education set out four major organizational alternatives. These have now been whittled down to two main options, with minor variants on each. The first is to take an ax to Bell's Cabinet chair but otherwise leave things much as they now are, in a separate non-cabinet-level agency with a different name. The second is to "disperse" the department's programs, units, and personnel among other federal agencies. The first is so conventional a political solution that no administration committed to "true reform" could possibly endorse it. But the second cannot be properly appraised until one knows where the various pieces might go. Mindful that such an important matter cannot be left to the random musings of the bureaucratic mind, and that persons close to the daily churnings of the federal education-policy machine lack perspective, we sought the expert counsel of our old mentor, Professor Dolittle Machiavelli Wunderbar, senior fellow emeritus at the Hoover-Heritage Institute on the Foundation of Creative Bureaucracy. (HHIFCB).

Wunderbar stoked his ever-present briar, thumbed through a dog-eared copy of Weber, stared into space for a moment or two, and then observed to us that it was really a simple matter of identifying the optimal structural-functional solution. This, he explained, was a method of analysis invented in Heidelberg in the 1870's but greatly strengthened by the work of the late Dr. Bruno Laugher at Berkeley in the early 1960's. Indeed, Wunderbar said, sophisticated contemporary students of organization (such as himself) almost always base their structural-functional solutions on the Laugher Curve.

We were beyond our depth, but the essential point, Wunderbar explained in what he called laymen's language, is to ensure that each program or unit of the Education Department be transferred to an agency with whose functions it would be most synergistic, apposite, or entropic. Herewith the key elements of Wunderbar's dispersal plan:

Collectively, the largest federal education programs are those providing financial aid to college students. In order to safeguard their budgets while solving another major national problem--the viability of the volunteer Army--all student aid (about $7 billion) should be transferred to the Pentagon, with two small modifications: rather than repaying loans at below-market interest rates, borrowers would be given credit for every month of military service; and all recipients would be obliged while in college to complete 12 credit hours in tank driving and riflery.

Nine years ago, Congress created the National Institute of Education to conduct research into what works in teaching and learning. Unfortunately, NIE never really got off the ground. To rectify that situation, Wunderbar ascertained, NIE should be shifted to NASA and attached to the next available space shuttle.

The Impact Aid program, already somewhat reduced in size, can only be run effectively by an agency that knows something about what impacts are and how to handle them. Wunderbar identified three candidates. His preference was for the Energy Information Administration in the Department of Energy, but since the Cabinet agency is also imperiled, acceptable alternatives would include the Defense Nuclear Agency, which specializes in large impacts, and the Bureau of Accident Investigation at the National Transportation Safety Board, which deals with many small ones.

Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is a large and important program but only the cognoscenti understand that. The reason, according to Dr. Wunderbar, is that it's never had a proper given name, nickname, or acronym, and for 16 years has been known by a number. Fortunately, there is a federal unit charged with inventing apt and precise appellations, to wit the Interior Department's Board on Geographic Names. Thereafter, a second transfer may be in order; since the program's only remaining friend is Congressman Carl Perkins of eastern Kentucky, he can most easily watch over it if it is run by the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Bilingual education is another program that could find a functional home in several places. The optimal choice would be the Office of the Federal Register, the federal agency with the greatest need of expertise in translating foreign tongues into English.

As for the Office of Gifted and Talented, which runs education programs for exceptionally able youngsters, there is no ambiguity whatsoever. For reasons that Wunderbar finds self-evident, it must go the the Central Intelligence Agency.

The only major shortcoming of the various programs to aid education of the handicapped is that there has never been enough money to comply with their requirements. That problem is readily solved by transferring the programs to the Bureau of Printing and Engraving.

Wunderbar could not deduce what "mining fellowships" are, but judged that they appear to involve the extraction of various substances that Mother Nature placed in the earth's crust. He determined that the only agency capable of overseeing this process is the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

Indian education was a close call. Faithful application of the Laugher Curve would suggest correcting Christopher Columbus's seminal error by assigning the program to the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs. A reasonable domestic alternative would include the Legal Services Corporation, since everything about Indians is constantly being litigated.

By contrast, the proper organizational locus for the Migrant Education Program is analytically indisputable: Amtrack. This would also prove economical, since the future Mr. Stockman has ordained for the national passenger system will not only slow the movement of the migrant population but over time will eliminate the need for the program altogether.

One of the Education Department's largest and most controversial units is the Office for Civil Rights. Wunderbar felt that it must be entrusted to a government agency with (a.) ample resources, (b.) proven effectiveness, and (c.) a clear understanding of this administration's conception of "civil rights." Clearly, the functional word is "civil," but he rejected the Civil Aeronautics Board on grounds that it is neither rich nor effective and opted for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, which already supervises the notoriously effective (and Croesus-rich) Corps of Engineers.

Upon close scrutiny, the vocational-education programs appear dedicated to preparing young people in the first instance for gainful employment and in the second instance for remunerative retirement. Wunderbar deduced, therefore, that responsibility must be divided between the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which has very little else to do at present, and the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation.

The main problem with the program of assistance to "developing institutions" is that they never seem to get developed. This perplexing situation clearly calls for careful study, but fortunately the research capacity already exists at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

The Institute of Museum Services is so tiny, and its purpose so remote from the interests of the current regime, that structural-functionalism proves it will surely perish unless somehow attached to the Pentagon. Fortunately, there is almost nothing (except, perhaps, war) that the Defense Department is unprepared to handle and our consultant therefore recommended transfer to the National Armed Forces Museum Advisory Board.

Likewise, the Education Department's Office of the General Counsel has urgent need both of generals and of firm ideas on which to base its counsel. The Pentagon could meet those needs, too, within the Army Training and Doctrine Command.

Several programs have such obvious organizational destinies that even sloppy application of the Laugher Curve makes their transfer virtually automatic. Aid to public libraries, for example, must be handled by the agency already responsible for filling their shelves, namely the Government Printing Office.

Educational television is a natural for the National Security Agency, which already copies down everything sent over the airwaves and does a lot of transmitting itself. And women's educational equity, which finds little favor in this administration, can only endure if transformed into more palpable kinds of equity, such as those guaranteed by the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae).

In dismantling any Cabinet department, Wunderbar noted, the hardest question of all is what to do with the Office of the Secretary. But the Laugher Curve solves this problem, too. There can be only one functional place for it, he said, namely the White House typing pool, a move that has the added advantage of retaining what advocates of the department most wanted in the first place: ready access by the Education Secretary to the President and his senior aides. Though Wunderbar ordinarily avoids political commentary, he could not resist pointing out to us that this might even mean the President would pay greater attention to the Secretary than he does now, in which case dismantling the department by "dispersing" it according to the principles of structural-functionalism may in fact be the best of the major options from practically everybody's standpoint.

We thanked our learned and revered adviser, and promised to return soon to talk with him about the Energy Department.

Vol. 01, Issue 11, Page 24, 18

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