Reduction-in-Force Is Viewed as an Administration Attack on E.D.
Washington--A plan by the Reagan Administration to eliminate more than 100 positions in the 5,200-person Education Department, and to reorganize certain offices, has prompted criticism from members of Congress and from the union representing department employees.
The reduction-in-force, which would affect personnel who administer the Chapter 1 program, vocational education, migrant education, impact aid, Indian education, and the women's educational equity program, is characterized by Administration officials as a way to eliminate "top-heaviness" in the management ranks and to meet personnel ceilings imposed by the fed-eral Office of Personnel Management.
But House members have charged that the planned staff reductions are the first step in an attempt by the Administration to eliminate the department through administrative procedures, after the Congress refused to do so legislatively. The department, they pointed out, has already lost 25 percent of its staff since President Reagan took office, mainly through a hiring freeze, retirements, and attrition.
At a hearing earlier this month, Representative William Ford, Democrat of Michigan, told a panel of Administration representatives that "one person's reorganization for managerial efficiency is another person's reorganization to do away with a program."
And Representative Mary Rose Oakar, Democrat of Ohio, singled out the Administration's opposition to the women's program. The Administration sought no funds for the program last year and is proposing to reduce the staff from eight to five.
"You want to eliminate the program, and you're charged with managing it. That is the blackest of ironies," she said.
Charles Heatherly, deputy undersecretary for management, called the charge "ludicrous." He admitted that he was "convinced" that the women's program should be eliminated, but maintained, "My personal philosophies have no bearing on my carrying out my job."
By Sept. 18, the plan would eliminate 42 of 272 positions in the office of elementary and secondary education, 18 of 143 positions in the office of vocational education, and 51 of 169 positions in the department's 10 regional offices.
Although those offices would lose 111 staff members, the department would also gain 169 other staff positions, in the offices of postsecondary education, the inspector general, civil rights, the general counsel, and intergovernmental affairs.
Mr. Heatherly said that, because some of the staff members who held the eliminated positions could apply for the new positions, the reductions should be viewed as a "rational realignment of staff resources, not a budget-driven reduction."
Minimal Job Loss
Lawrence Davenport, who heads the office of elementary and secondary education, maintained that fewer than 50 staff members would actually lose their jobs when the reduction-in-force was completed. He added that his office currently retains 41 employees whose jobs were eliminated last year, as well as 12 employees whose positions were eliminated this year when the career-education program was folded into the block-grants program.
Union officials concede that some reorganization is necessary. Maryann Nelson, president of the employees' union, told the Washington Post recently that "there is a top-heaviness in some of the programs."
And John L. Martin, the union's shop steward and an employee in Mr. Davenport's office, said that only 42 employees lost their jobs in February 1982 when more than 100 positions were eliminated.
Nonetheless, Mr. Martin maintained in an interview that the reductions represent "classic doubletalk: 'In order to hire we must fire."'
Further, he said the reductions would hamper his office's ability to travel to states and school systems to review their administration of federal programs, a procedure known as "compliance monitoring."
"The possibility of money being misspent because of lack of direction is real," he said. "Without the compliance reviews in the future, there will be significant audit exceptions."
Mr. Davenport, in an interview, said his office "can do as much monitoring with less staff. Over 44 percent of the positions to be eliminated are supervisory people who don't do the monitoring," he claimed.
Another employee, who asked not to be identified, criticized the reorganization plan that would follow the reduction-in-force in the fall. The plan groups positions by "function"--a method Mr. Davenport described as more efficient than the current organization by program.
Under the plan, management personnel of certain programs--which the Administration considers to be "top heavy"--would be transferred to other programs within the office.
The employee said the Administration can use the plan to fire employees it deems troublesome--such as the director of the women's equity program, Leslie Wolfe.
Although Ms. Wolfe declined to comment, other sources said the job description for her position would be rewritten to exclude its current emphasis on expertise in equity for women. Because Ms. Wolfe has no seniority, she could be "bumped," or replaced, by a more senior employee from another program.
Mr. Martin says the transfers would be "disruptive" and "wasteful." "Personnel with years of experience in [Chapter 1], migrant education, or Indian education" might be "placed in organizations" with which they are unfamiliar, he said.
Mr. Davenport denied that Ms. Wolfe was the target of the reorganization. He added that he found the federal reduction-in-force procedures inefficient, but that he "had no choice but to go by time and grade and veteran status."
The chairmen of the education subcommittee of the House Education and Labor Committee and the investigations subcommittee of the Post Office and Civil Service Committee said they will continue to investigate the situation when the Congress returns from its recess.