Panel's Chairman Asks Bennett To Move Faster on N.I.E. Plan
Washington--Frustrated with Secretary of Education William J. Bennett's failure to produce a plan for the future of the National Institute of Education, the chairman of the House panel responsible for the institute says he will send an nie-reauthorization bill to the House floor by the end of July--with or without the Administration's cooperation.
"I want to get the process started," Representative Pat Williams, Democrat of Montana and chairman of the House Select Education Subcommittee, said in an interview last week. "I see no reason for delay."
In a May 15 letter to Secretary Bennett, Representative Williams explained that his subcommittee has "several major programs to reauthorize" in the 99th Congress and that it must begin to act soon on the nie "I would welcome your participation in this effort," the Congressman wrote.
Two of the most significant pieces of school-related legislation now before the Congress must pass through Representative Williams's subcommittee: the nie reauthorization and a bill to award legal fees in special-education lawsuits, which has already been reported to the full Education and Labor Committee. His panel must also reauthorize the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities.
There was no immediate comment from Mr. Bennett. But a department spokesman said he intends to respond to Representative Williams's letter, probably within the week.
The research agency, whose authorizing law is due to expire in September, will automatically be extended for a year under the General Education Provisions Act. Thus, the Congress must renew its authorization by Oct. 1, 1986, to keep it in business.
Since Mr. Bennett's nomination, Administration and Congressional aides have speculated that he would seize the opportunity to restructure the nie, whose budget is $58 million this year.
The institute has been criticized as inefficient and top-heavy with political appointees. (See Education Week, Jan. 23, 1985.)
"A Presidentially appointed director of nie reports to a Presidentially appointed research council, which has policy-setting responsibility," according to Denis P. Doyle, director of education-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. "In turn, the director of the nie reports to a Presidentially appointed assistant secretary who reports to the secretary through the undersecretary."
Mr. Bennett has appointed a panel of prominent educators to examine the department's research priorities; it is to meet for the second and last time June 6. He has also solicited public comments on the reorganization of the office of educational research and improvement, the Education Department office that oversees the nie; the deadline for comments is May 31.
Sources in the Education Department and in the Congress have said that the Administration may release a proposal on the nie next month, along with the nomination of Chester E. Finn as the department's assistant secretary for educational research and improvement.
Mr. Finn, a professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University who has been working as a part-time consultant for Mr. Bennett, has discussed with Representative Williams and Senate aides the future of the nie
Representative Williams said that he has asked Mr. Finn to take back to Mr. Bennett some of his concerns about the nie
The aei's Mr. Doyle--a frequent co-author of education articles with Mr. Finn--has developed, with his aei associate Terry W. Hartle, a proposal for reorganizing the agency. It would create an assistant secretary for nie with direct control over five units--research, statistics, dissemination and improvement, libraries and learning technology, and the national center on vocational-education research.
Last week, Representative Williams said he feared that Mr. Bennett may seek to use changes in the department's organizational structure "to change the research functions into statistics-gathering functions" exclusively.
He added, however, that his concern is based on conjecture, not on information about the Secretary's plans.
Senate aides have said that they will await House action before taking steps to write a new nie bill.
Representative Williams's subcommittee held two days of hearings on the nie earlier this year, but the Education Department submitted only written testimony and Mr. Bauer declined to appear before the panel.
Representative Williams recently canceled the mark-up session for a one-year extension of the research institute at the request of his subcommittee's ranking Republican, Representative Steve Bartlett of Texas. Another reason for the postponement, Representative Williams wrote in his May 15 letter, was to permit Administration participation.
"I have directed the subcommittee staff to begin serious discussions with the education community, leading to a more substantive piece of legislation," Representative Williams wrote. "nie's mission and its ability to carry out its mission will be strengthened by our combined efforts. I look forward to having your cooperation and assistance in this process."
Start-Up Problems Seen
In last week's interview, the Montana Democrat also expressed dismay at what he said was the generally slow pace at the Education Department under Mr. Bennett's leadership.
"The Department of Education has been very difficult to deal with during the past several months," said Representative Williams. He attributed the situation to "start-up problems under the new Secretary," who was sworn in on Feb. 6.
One of the purposes of his May 15 letter to Mr. Bennett was "to try to flesh out the beginnings of a working relationship" with the Secretary, he said.
Congressional aides say they expect Mr. Bennett and the department to become more active in personnel appointments and policy moves once the Senate, as expected, confirms Mr. Bauer as undersecretary. Mr. Bauer's confirmation hearing before the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee is scheduled for June 4.