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House Report Critical of O.C.R.

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Washington--The Education Department's office for civil rights is "sending a message" to recipients of federal education funds that "the U.S. government is not willing to use its complete authority" to resolve civil-rights violations, according to a report unanimously approved last week by the House Government Operations Committee.

The 66-page report, which was expected to be released this week, is the final product of two days of oversight hearings held by the House Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Relations and Human Resources. (See Education Week, Aug. 21 and Sept. 18, 1985.)

Heated Debate

At the July and September hearings, committee members engaged in heated debate with Harry M. Singleton, the department's assistant secretary for the civil rights, over his office's activities. Mr. Singleton, who has headed the office since 1982, subsequently announced he 4would resign, effective Dec. 31.

In its report, the committee accused ocr of settling 13 discrimination cases against schools and colleges without adequately addressing the issues that were raised in the initial complaints and by its own investigators.

Furthermore, the committee contended that the office ducked its responsibility to enforce anti-discrimination laws by referring 24 cases to the Justice Department, where the cases were allowed "to languish for years."

Other Findings

The report also found that:

More than $20 million, out of a total of $272 million appropriated by the Congress for ocr between 1980 and 1985, was returned to the Treasury or spent on activities unrelated to ocr operations. In that same period, the number of employees at ocr fell from 1,201 to 907.

The civil-rights office ignored the internal findings of its Washington quality-assurance staff, disbanding the staff instead of acting on its recommendations.

The civil-rights office's reliance on early-complaint resolutions--a method that allows ocr to act as a mediator in settling discrimination complaints before the agency launches a formal investigation--"may be illegal, may not protect the rights of complainants, and may jeopardize future litigation involving violations of law." The Justice Department questioned the method in a 1981 letter to ocr

Although the report was approved unanimously, Robert Walker, Republican of Pennsylvania and ranking minority member on the committee, is circulating a paper among Republican committee members voicing "separate views" and plans to file it with the committee report, a Congressional aide said.--at

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