Lawmaker Threatens To Block New N.I.E. Plan
Washington--A key lawmaker, irritated by the planned reorganization of the Education Department's research operation, has threatened to block the move, Congressional sources said last week.
Representative David R. Obey, Democrat of Wisconsin and a member of the House panel responsible for overseeing the department's budget, has drafted an amendment to its fiscal 1986 spending bill that would bar Secretary of Education William J. Bennett from spending money on the reorganization until he responds to Congressional concerns about the political independence and effectiveness of the research unit.
The Obey measure is "just not warranted," commented Ronald P. Preston, a consultant at the National Institute of Education. Mr. Preston is expected to be named one of two deputy assistant secretaries for research next month, once the reorganization is completed.
Representative Obey's amendment was reportedly the final issue to be resolved before the Appropriations Subcommittee for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education could clear the bill for the full appropriations panel.
Representative Obey could not be reached for comment last week.
House aides said it was unlikely that the Obey rider would be adopted by the subcommittee, much less be enacted into law. But they called the move significant because it4could foreshadow greater Congressional scrutiny of and participation in the federal education-research effort.
One aide suggested that if the concerns of Representative Obey and others are not addressed in the next year, the appropriations committee could seek to cut research money or earmark how the money is spent.
"It's politically naive to think it'll stay this way," the aide said.
Mr. Bennett this summer announced that he would exercise his statutory prerogative to unilaterally reorganize the research unit. He chose to abolish the nie and the National Center for Education Statistics, placing all aspects of research under an assistant secretary for educational research and improvement. Chester E. Finn Jr., a professor of education at Vanderbilt University, was the Secretary's choice for the new post.
The Congress next year must rewrite the laws that authorize the research functions. Representative Pat Williams, Democrat of Montana and chairman of the House panel that will draft the new legislation, has expressed frustration at the lack of Congressional input in the reorganization.
"They've talked to me twice" about the reorganization, Representative Williams said last week. "The first time they said, 'We'll get back to you'; the second time, they handed me the plan."
Representative Williams and the chairman of the House Education Committee, Representative Augustus F. Hawkins, had urged that Mr. Bennett be prohibited from spending money "to carry out the transfer of functions ... unless such transfer is hereafter expressly authorized" by the Congress.
Their July 23 letter to the appropriations panel chairman, Representative William H. Natcher, said, "The proposed reorganization would result in a significant alteration in the manner in which Congressionally mandated functions and studies are carried out by the department. The proposed reorganization plan has not considered the concerns of Congress and the legitimate interests of all members of the education research community."
Mr. Preston said last week that the department would not draft a reauthorization bill but would work with the Congressional panels writing it.
The funding levels for research next year will probably be frozen, Congressional sources said. The nie is funded this year at $51 million and the nces at $9 million.
Appropriations information is held tightly by subcommittee members and staff until the full committee has cleared the bill. The word on Capitol Hill last week was that total spending for the agencies included in the bill would be frozen at the fiscal 1985 level of about $101 billion, but no details were available on whether the total would include shifts in spending priorities.