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E.D. Official Questions N.I.E.'s Effectiveness, Structure

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Washington--A top Education Department official last week questioned the effectiveness of the National Institute of Education and hinted that it will probably be brought more directly under the control of the secretary of education.

"The organization and governance structure of the [nie], and of the Office of Educational Research and Improvement [oeri], of which it is a part, should be designed to carry out [their] functions efficiently and effectively," said Gary L. Bauer, deputy undersecretary for planning, budget, and evaluation, who is expected to be nominated shortly as undersecretary. "Frankly, I have doubts about whether the current structure meets these criteria."

Both the assistant secretary for oeri and the director of the nie are Presidential appointees. "The layering of multiple Presidential appointees in the oeri appears to me to be a cause of serious waste and inefficiency," Mr. Bauer said.

Mr. Bauer made his comments in written testimony to the House Subcommittee on Select Education, which last week held its first hearing on the reauthorization of the nie, whose authorizing law is due to expire on Sept. 30.

He had postponed a scheduled appearance before the panel last Wednesday, saying that the department had yet to decide what to do with the nie Secretary of Education William J. Bennett is studying a possible reorganization of the department, as President Reagan requested, including a restructuring of its research functions.

Short-Term Authorization

Congressional aides and Administration sources have said they expect Mr. Bennett to recommend a merger of the nie with the National Center for Education Statistics, with the new unit under the control of a single assistant secretary for research.

But some aides and most of the witnesses at last Thursday's hearing said they remain skeptical of the idea.

One draft bill currently circulating among Congressional staff members and lobbyists would reauthorize the nie for two years, rather than the usual five, according to a Democratic Congressional aide. During that time, he said, the subcommittee would closely study a long-term approach to the structure of the federal government's educational research effort.

The General Accounting Office, a Congressional investigative agency, is expected to complete a study before the end of the year on the effectiveness of both nie and nces The study was requested by the former chairman of the House subcommittee, Representative Austin J. Murphy, Democrat of Pennsylvania.

The National Academy of Sciences has also undertaken a study of the nces (See Education Week, Oct. 3, 1985.)

Opposition to Merger

All but one of the education researchers who testified before the subcommittee opposed the idea of merging the 13-year-old research agency with the nces

Roger Egbert, a professor of education at the University of Nebraska, said such a merger would be a "bad mistake" and would do "a grave disservice to educational research." Mr. Egbert was testifying on behalf of the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education but noted that he was expressing his own views on this point.

Several of the witnesses claimed that consolidating the research agency with the statistics-gathering arm would suggest that the department places a low priority on education research--an impression at odds with the Administration's position that research is one of the few appropriate federal roles in education.

Denis P. Doyle, education-policy analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based policy-research organization, commented, however, that the department's research functions have "an administrative superstructure large enough to run a small country."

Administrative Problems

"A Presidentially appointed director of nie reports to a Presidentially appointed research council, which has policy-setting responsibility; in turn, the director of nie reports to a Presidentially appointed assistant secretary who reports to the secretary through the undersecretary," according to Mr. Doyle's characterization. "Too many people are involved and there is precious little flexibility."

Mr. Doyle has collaborated on a number of education articles with Chester E. Finn Jr., the Vanderbilt University professor who would reportedly be named to head the single and unified research operation.

Research Council Hit

Mr. Doyle also called for the abolition of the National Council for Education Research, the nie's oversight board, which he said contributed to administrative difficulties at the agency.

Numerous witnesses criticized recent actions of the policy board. David P. Crandall, speaking for the Council for Educational Development and Research, the coalition of nie-supported laboratories and centers, charged that "the 'Far Right,' with the encouragement of President Reagan, "has moved to redirect [the nie's] programs and priorities."

Draft language currently circulating for a bill to modify the structure of the board would allow numerous education groups to recommend educators to serve on it. Members would then be nominated by the President, the Congress, and governors.

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