Bell's Replacement 'On Hold'; Budget Nears Completion
Washington--President Reagan is unlikely to name a new secretary of education until after he gives final approval to the department's proposed fiscal 1986 budget, Administration and Congressional sources said last week.
Administration officials said they expect to complete work this week on education-spending proposals that would slash aid for postsecondary students but maintain current funding levels in most elementary- and secondary-education programs for the year that begins next Oct. 1. The President will send his budget to the Congress late this month or early next month.
Mr. Reagan has discussed with his aides several possible successors to former Education Secretary Terrel H. Bell but has given no indication of when a new secretary will be appointed, said Marlin Fitzwater, a White House spokesman. "It could happen at any minute; it could happen in a few weeks," he said, noting the unpredictability of Cabinet-level appointments.
But some Administration sources attributed the delay in naming the new secretary to a political struggle between so-called moderates and conservatives among the President's senior advisors.
Successor 'on Hold'
Sources within and close to the Administration say the selection of a new secretary of education is now "on hold." Staff aides to Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah and chairman of the Congressional committee that must clear the President's nomination, say the White House has not suggested any potential nominees to Senator Hatch recently.
Mr. Bell announced his resignation Nov. 8 and left Washington after releasing the second annual "wall chart" of the states' educational performance Dec. 18. (See story on page 11.) Since then, Undersecretary Gary L. Jones, who is reportedly actively seeking to assume the post, has served as acting secretary.
Other leading candidates remain William J. Bennett, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and John R. Silber, president of Boston University, Administration sources say.
But Linda Chavez, staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and a "dark horse" candidate who has been interviewed at the White House for the job, said in an interview that she understood that the list of candidates is growing rather than shrinking.
Denis P. Doyle, education analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, a policy-research group here, said the delay is indicative of the low priority the Administration has placed on naming the new secretary.
Eileen M. Gardner, the education-policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, the influential conservative research organization, said the delay in naming the new secretary would set back the President's agenda in education. It is to the Adminis-tration's benefit, she suggested, to have as strong a leader as possible at the department advocating the President's initiatives--such as limiting the federal role in education and trimming the size of the bureaucracy.
But some Administration sources said Mr. Reagan's chief of staff, James A. Baker 3rd, who is widely regarded as the key moderate in the White House, has stalled the selection process in an attempt to demonstrate his influence within the President's inner circle, to the frustration of the out-going counselor to the President, Edwin Meese 3rd, and John C. Herrington, assistant to the President for Presidential personnel.
According to this account from Administration sources who spoke on the condition that they not be identified, Mr. Herrington has been ready to present a final list of candidates to the President. But Mr. Baker--who, along with Mr. Meese and out-going Deputy Chief of Staff Michael K. Deaver, must approve such "decision memos" before they go to the President--has refused to put the issue on Mr. Reagan's agenda.
Mr. Baker reportedly believed that the early appointment of a new secretary would be seen as a bureaucratic victory for the conservative wing of the party. His view was said to be reinforced after Mr. Bennett and Mr. Silber met for an off-the-record discussion with a coalition of conservative groups shortly after Mr. Bell announced his resignation. (See Education Week, Nov. 28, 1984.)
Mr. Baker "was trying to avoid a conservative coup early in the [new] Administration," suggested one official. He and the so-called moderates "have a short-term political interest in maintaining" an ascendancy among Mr. Reagan's top advisors, said another.
Moreover, Mr. Meese, who is widely seen as the conservative "point man" in Mr. Reagan's inner circle, will soon be nominated for the position of attorney general, the President has said.
Observers seemed to agree that the longer Mr. Jones serves as acting secretary, the better his chances are at keeping the job. "The longer Jones comes to Cabinet meetings, the more credible he seems," an official noted.
Meanwhile, officials at the Education Department and the Office of Management and Budget near completion of an education budget that would deny student financial aid to families whose income exceeds the $30,000-$35,000 range and would limit to $4,000 the amount of federally subsidized aid that any graduate or undergraduate could receive in one year.
Higher-education lobbyists said these changes, if enacted, would primarily affect lower- and middle-income students attending private colleges and graduate-school students, who must generally pay higher tuition than undergraduates.
According to Larry S. Zaglaniczny, assistant director for Congressional liaison at the American Council on Education, the current need formula effectively funnels out those students from middle-income families who do not need aid.
And the $4,000 limit would hurt the "very neediest" students attending private colleges, he said.