Federal News Update
Two weeks after a Congressional veto of the Administration's proposed regulations for Chapters I and II of the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act, the Education Department still will not comment on the legal status of the regulations.
Marie Robinson, a spokesman for the department, said last week that ed "was studying the matter" and had no further comment. In swift action on Aug. 10, both the House and the Senate voted overwhelmingly to reject the regulations. The votes followed a prolonged argument with Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell over the applicability of a federal law known as the General Education Provisions Act to Chapters I and II.
Among other things, gepa guarantees the Congress's right to review and to veto federal education regulations within 45 days of their publication in the Federal Register. Upon publication of the regulations for Chapters I and II, the department said that the Congress did not intend gepa to be generally applicable to the ecia, which was approved by Congress last summer. Therefore, department officials reasoned, the Congress had stripped itself of the right to veto subsequent Chapter I and II regulations.
The Congress strongly disputed that interpretation of its intentions and vetoed the regulations despite the Education Department's warnings against doing so. The ensuing confusion over the legality of the Congress's action has left the legality of the Chapter I and II regulations, which were to have taken effect on Aug. 12, in doubt.
The Reagan Administration has asked a federal judge to eliminate the court-ordered timetables that require the Education Department to provide prompt investigation of civil-rights complaints against schools and colleges.
Because the timetables, which require action on complaints and compliance reviews within 225 days of receiving information against educational institutions, are "inappropriate and unnecessary," the timetables should be withdrawn, the Administration said in a brief filed last week before U.S. District Judge John H. Pratt.
The action came as Judge Pratt considered a motion filed last year by the naacp Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the Women's Equity Action League, among others, that asked the judge to find the Administration in contempt of court for violating the timetables. Judge Pratt had ordered negotiations between the two sides, but they were unable to reach agreement.
The Administration contended that the timetables--which were agreed to by the Carter Administration in 1977 in response to two lawsuits that alleged the ed office for civil rights was lagging in its enforcement of civil-rights laws--did not permit the government sufficient time to investigate complex issues raised in some civil-rights complaints.
Should the judge not agree to withdraw the timetables immediately, the Administration asked that the timetables be revised. The brief proposed that the ed be allowed an extra 185 days to act on one-fourth of the complaints received and an extra 335 days to act on one-fourth of its compliance reviews.
The Administration also asked for several exceptions to its proposed timetables, and the brief said that, even if the new timetables were found acceptable to the judge and the plaintiffs, timetables should be eliminated entirely in two years.
Margaret A. Kohn, an attorney for the women's group, said the plaintiffs had offered to permit the department extra time to investigate 20 percent of its complaints and compliance reviews, but she added that the plaintiffs would not agree to the Administration's request to eliminate the timetables.
For the second time this month a U.S. Supreme Court Justice refused to reinstate a lower court order that would have prevented the distribution of this year's Chapter I allocations to the states on the basis of 1970 census data.
On Aug. 13, Justice Thurgood Marshall turned down a request by 11 states and Puerto Rico that he overturn an action by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on July 23 allowing Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell to distribute approximately $2.4 billion in Chapter I grants to states on the basis of the disputed data.
Earlier this month, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger turned down a similar request by the states, which claim that use of the 1970 data would deprive them of approximately $276 million in federal aid for the education of disadvantaged children. The states contend that Mr. Bell should be required to use 1980 census data because it more accurately reflects the current status of poverty in the nation.
In responding to the motion by the plaintiffs in Ambach v. Bell, the Education Department and 12 states that have joined it as defendants in the case contended that Mr. Bell's decision "was not only reasonable but it was the only decision he could have made" because the 1980 data would not have been ready in time for the department's July 1 target date for the distribution of the Chapter I grants.
The director of the Education Department's Women's Educational Equity Act program--a federal program designed to advance educational equity for female students and faculty members--has filed two complaints against departmental actions with the government's Merit Systems Protection Board.
Leslie R. Wolfe, who was strongly criticized in an article in the April issue of Conservative Digest magazine for operating "a money machine for a network of openly radical feminist groups," alleged in one complaint that she was temporarily transfered to another post two weeks after the article appeared--in violation of civil-service rules. She contended that the transfer, which took place as her office was preparing to review applications for federal grants under the women's program, was based on her "alleged political views and affiliation."
A second complaint, filed under a law that protects federal employees who reveal unethical or unlawful actions in federal agencies, charged that, after Ms. Wolfe was transferred, department officials chose unqualified persons to review the grant applications.
The action violated both the law that created the program and the regulations and grant-application review plan that were drawn up by the department.
Ms. Wolfe, who has returned to her post in the women's program, was unavailable for comment last week. A department spokesman said there was no official comment on the complaints.