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Federal File: Clampdown; Olive Branch Offered?; Almost-Confirmed Rumor

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In his first day on the job, Secretary of Education William J. Bennett ordered his senior staff not to speak with the press or communicate--formally or informally--with members of Congress or Congressional staff members without advance clearance.

Mr. Bennett told his top aides in a memorandum to review department grants and make sure that they "are not being used for political advocacy in any form" and to "review all programs, publications and activities of your office to ensure that they are consistent with the philosophy of the Administration," a department spokesman confirmed.

Mr. Bennett also told the senior staff to "master the budget details and rationale ... so that we can adequately explain and defend them in the upcoming budget hearings." The department's proposed $15.5-billion budget calls for deep cuts in aid for postsecondary students.

In line with the Administration cost-consciousness being promoted by the Office of Management and Budget, the new Secretary warned the aides to keep travel and overhead costs down.

As chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities, Mr. Bennett sought to depoliticize the nature of neh grants, although some liberal critics accused him of aligning too closely with the White House and conservatives.

A week before his confirmation as Secretary of Education, Mr. Bennett met with leaders of the National Education Association, who are apparently signaling they will adopt a more conciliatory posture towards the Reagan Administration during its second term.

On Jan. 29, the day after his Senate hearing, Mr. Bennett met with the nea president, Mary H. Futrell, Executive Director Don Cameron, and Executive Vice President Keith B. Geiger, an association spokesman confirmed.

The spokesman for the 1.7-million member association said the meeting, initiated by the nea, was intended "to establish a dialogue" with the Administration.

The spokesman said the nea has realized that Mr. Reagan is very popular and is trying to relax the confrontational attitude that characterized its view of his first term. Mr. Bennett and the nea officials will meet again, although they have not set a date, the spokesman said.

Did Boston University's outspoken president, John R. Silber, recently reject an Administration offer to be the third secretary of education?

"Yes, that's right," was the quick answer offered by the university public-affairs official who answered the phone.

"Hold the line," the man said when asked for more details about this heretofore unconfirmed rumor circulating in the nation's capital. The next voice was that of a woman. How could she help, she asked. She responded to the question as quickly as her colleague: "Oh no, as far as we're aware, he was never offered the job."--jh

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