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Federal File: Who's in Charge?; Ford's Chairmanship

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When Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell announced his resignation and returned to Utah earlier this month, he passed the reins of the Education Department over to Undersecretary of Education Gary L. Jones. And almost immediately, Mr. Jones found himself representing the department in highly publicized Cabinet meetings last week devoted to discussions of the federal budget deficit and the need to trim federal spending.

Last Friday, Mr. Jones--again filling in for Mr. Bell--boarded a plane bound for Paris, where he will represent the United States at an international meeting of education ministers. From Paris, Mr. Jones will travel to West Germany, where he will participate in ceremonies honoring exemplary Department of Defense high schools. He is not expected back in Washington until Nov. 29.

Who's running the shop until Mr. Jones's return? One top official at the department said that according to law the next in the line of command is General Counsel Maureen E. Corcoran. On the other hand, the official said, "from a policy-development perspective" the third person on the totem pole is Gary L. Bauer, the deputy undersecretary for planning, budget, and evaluation.

In any event, the official said, it really doesn't matter all that much, given that most federal officials will be out of town this week for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Another Administration official, however, said it would be "foolish'' for Mr. Jones to make himself unavailable to defend the department's fiscal 1986 budget proposal at a time when the Cabinet is considering domestic spending cuts.

Representative William D. Ford, Democrat of Michigan, may be able to assume the chairmanship of the House Postsecondary Education Subcommittee without relinquishing the leadership of the Post Office and Civil Service Committee.

The subcommittee--which had been chaired by Senator-elect Paul Simon, Democrat of Illinois--is a likely hub of legislative action in the 99th Congress, as the Higher Education Act is due for reauthorization.

Representative Ford had sought an exemption from House rules, which would forbid him to chair both the subcommittee and the Post Office panel.

But a subcommittee of the House Democratic Caucus voted 14 to 4 last month to recommend to the full Democratic Caucus--all of the House Democrats--that the rules be waived in Representative Ford's case, a Ford aide confirmed. The Democrats will vote on the recommendation early next month.

In 1980, Representative Ford coordinated reauthorization of the act, which one lobbyist called "one of the most complex laws on the books."

"It would make sense," the lobbyist said, that in an anticipated legislative fight with the Administration the Democrats "might want a very experienced chairman at the helm."

Five of the Education and Labor Committee's eight subcommittee chairmanships will probably be up for grabs in January.--jh & tm

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