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Former E.D. Official Calls Reorganization, Layoffs 'Devastating'

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Washington--The reorganization and reduction-in-force now underway in the U.S. Education Department's office of elementary and secondary education has had a "devastating" effect on employee morale and effectiveness, according to the former director of the Women's Educational Equity Act program.

"The impact on persons and programs has been substantial and severe; the potential for serious disruption of program operations in fiscal 1984 is great," said Leslie A. Wolfe, who was officially "separated'' from the department on Sept. 16, during a joint hearing before House education and civil-service subcommittees last week.

The session was the second convened by the two panels to investigate the motivations behind--and the potential impact of--the layoffs and the reorganization, which were announced by the department in late July. The first hearing was conducted on Aug. 2.

Politically sensitive programs affected by the shifts include women's equity, Title IV desegregation-assistance, and migrant education.

During both hearings, department officials steadfastly contended that the shifts were designed solely to improve program efficiency. But Ms. Wolfe and other witnesses testifying before the representatives alleged that the moves were intended, instead, to accomplish bureaucratically what the department could not achieve by means of legislation--namely, the debilitation of the programs.

"If you could look inside the office of elementary and secondary education today, you would see confusion, fear, disruption, and despair,'' Ms. Wolfe said. "We are witnessing the devastation of the career civil service, at least in the department which I have just left, through often cruel downgradings and needless harassment of employees."

The former weea director added that "the already low morale in [the department] is declining rapidly, and many career employees' skills are not being utilized."

"Many are still being moved around well into the second week after the effective date of the reorganization," she said. "Many employees still do not know what their 'permanent' new assignments will be. And this confusion is occurring at the end of the fiscal year, when efficiency and program knowledge are especially urgent."

Under the reorganization plan and the subsequent layoffs, Ms. Wolfe said, her former "office," which reported directly to the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, was transformed into a "section." Under the new arrangement, she said, her successors must now file reports with three sub-levels of the department's bureaucracy before they reach the assistant secretary. In addition, the number of professional staff members working in the office full-time is down from eight to five.

The Title IV office was similarly restructured and the number of full-time workers there has been reduced from 20 to 8, Ms. Wolfe added.

"Although weea and Title IV were not abolished and folded into [the Chapter 2 block-grants program]," Ms. Wolfe said, "the two programs are now to be administered by staff located at the lowest possible bureaucratic level in the very office that has as its primary responsibility administration of the block grant.

"The Administration calls this a 'realignment' and 'reallocation' of staff resources," she continued. "Such a realignment from the top management level to the bottom, however, can only be seen as a substantial downgrading of these programs."

But according to Charles L. Heatherly, the department's deputy undersecretary for management, "There has not been, despite all the allegations to the contrary, an attempt to gut, absorb, or destroy any of the programs" in the department.

Resources and Workloads

The reductions-in-force and the reorganization "were based on a thorough study of the personnel resources and workloads of the department [and] represent an attempt to organize functionally rather than solely by program," he said.

"We are convinced that a functional organization will not only allow us to continue services at current levels, but will increase the impact of such programs as weea, Title IV, and the migrant-education programs," Mr. Heatherly continued. "The current operations of those programs will not be disrupted and program integrity will not be compromised by the reorganization."

Although several representatives questioned the legality of the reorganization when it was proposed in July, the Congressional Research Service has since issued a report stating that the Secretary of Education has the right to order such a realignment. The panels have scheduled no further hearings on the topic.

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