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White House Urged Meeting With Conservatives

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Washington--It took a call from the White House, William J. Bennett said last week, to convince him to meet last November with a coalition of conservative interest groups who wanted to hear the views of the leading candidates to succeed Terrel H. Bell as secretary of education.

Attended by John R. Silber, president of Boston University, and Mr. Bennett, the meeting caused a mild controversy and drew an editorial reprimand from the Washington Post, which questioned the propriety of interest groups' appearing to have the power to clear or veto a candidate for a Cabinet post. (See Education Week, Nov. 28, 1984.)

Mr. Bennett testified at his confirmation hearing last week that he twice refused requests by Connaught Marshner, director of the Child and Family Protection Institute and organizer of the "off-the-record" session.

The second refusal, he speculated, "precipitated" the call from a staff member in the White House personnel office, who "advised me to attend the meeting."

Mr. Bennett recalled that his response to the call was: "All right, I will go, but I don't think it's a good idea" [to appear to campaign for the job].

Senator Lowell P. Weicker, Republican of Connecticut, called the meetings "highly improper" but commended Mr. Bennett as "the only person who showed any good sense in the matter."

While there may be a consensus within the Administration about the need to reorganize the Education Department, there is at least one powerful member of Congress who is skeptical of the idea of merging the National Center for Education Statistics and the National Institute of Education.

Senator Mark O. Hatfield, the Oregon Republican who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which ultimately approves spending levels for all federal agencies, said "reports about possible elimination [of] or cutbacks" in the nie "concern me deeply."

Senator Hatfield, a long-time champion of federal spending on educational research and public libraries, made his remarks in a letter to Senator Robert T. Stafford, Republican of Vermont and chairman of the Senate education subcommittee. He asked Senator Stafford to question Mr. Bennett during his confirmation hearing last week on "the Administration's plans for streamlining the Department of Education and the effects of that effort on the National Institute of Education."

An Administration official said recently that the idea of consolidating nces and nie "has viability even if nothing else is done with the status of the department."

Who is Gary L. Bauer, the Kentucky lawyer now thought to be the leading candidate for the number two post at the Education Department under Mr. Bennett?

Mr. Bauer, who currently holds the rather anonymous but influential post of deputy undersecretary of education for planning, budget, and evaluation has been at the hub of major department activities in recent weeks. He was the official responsible for guiding its fiscal1986 budget through the bureaucratic thickets, and he also briefed Mr. Bennett for his Senate appearance last week.

During the hearing, Mr. Bauer, who has worked at the Reagan White House and is known for his conservative politics, also received an unexpected bit of attention. Senator Weicker, interrupted his own questioning to note the presence of several Administration officials at the hearing, including "my good friend Gary Bauer, the philosophical enforcer" at the department.

Mr. Bauer served as research director of the Republican National Committee from 1971 to 1973. He worked as policy analyst for President Reagan's 1980 campaign and as a member of his transition team.

A 1968 graduate of Georgetown (Ky.) College, he held several positions in the White House before joining the Education Department in October 1982.--jh

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