Senators Assess Qualifications Of Nominees for E.D. Posts
WASHINGTON--An influential senator last week expressed doubts about the Reagan Administration's choice of Beryl Dorsett, assistant principal of P.S. 229 in New York City, to oversee the federal office of elementary and secondary education.
"To move from being an assistant principal to administering a $5-billion program is a huge jump,'' said Senator Paul Simon, Democrat of Illinois, during a confirmation hearing on three recent nominations, including that of Ms. Dorsett, to be assistant secretaries of education.
Mr. Simon, the only member of the Labor and Human Resources Committee to question the nominees, voiced support for the other candidates: Bonnie F. Guiton, to head vocational and adult education, and LeGree S. Daniels, to direct the office for civil rights.
But it is "not clear,'' he said, whether Ms. Dorsett has "the background'' to supervise federal aid to elementary and secondary education.
Ms. Dorsett responded that she has had "22 years of experience as an educator,'' including several administering a $10-million Chapter 1 program for New York City's School District 9.
"It is my managerial skills that I'm noted for back in New York City,'' she added.
The nominee also listed on her resume several political credentials, including national co-chairman of Educators for Reagan-Bush '84, "executive member'' of the New York Council of Black Republicans, and alternate delegate to the New York Republican State Committee.
Ms. Daniels, another prominent black Republican who served until March as deputy secretary of state of Pennsylvania, pledged to improve relations between the civil-rights office and the Congress.
"I understand there have been past occasions,'' she said, "of understandable concern to [the committee], where it appeared that the process of exchange and dialogue with O.C.R. had lagged or had not occurred until moments of conflict arose. That will not happen under my tenure.''
She also announced plans "for outreach activities to improve civil-rights enforcement,'' such as "awareness training sessions for target populations serviced by the office,'' and "periodic forums'' to improve communications with the civil-rights community.
But civil-rights advocates privately expressed what one termed "grave reservations'' about Ms. Daniels's qualifications for the job--in particular, her lack of a college degree, unfamiliarity with the O.C.R.'s procedures, and inexperience in the field.
Ms. Daniels, 67, formerly served in various capacities with the state of Pennsylvania and the American Automobile Association. She said that, because her grandmother had been a South Carolina slave, "I really know firsthand all about civil rights.''
"Even though on paper you don't have the civil-rights background,'' Senator Simon told her, "I sense you have the get-up-and-go ... to defend the rights of people.''
Third Nominee Praised
Senator Simon had high praise for the third black female nominee, Ms. Guiton, a former corporate executive who now serves on the U.S. Postal Rate Commission.
"It's very clear that Dr. Guiton has the background'' to be assistant secretary for vocational and adult education, he said. He was referring to her doctorate in education and her experience with business-school partnerships while employed by the Kaiser Aluminum Company in California.
"As a former vocational-education student,'' the nominee said, "I look forward to working in a discipline that I consider to be of tremendous importance in the 1990's.''
Asked whether she would preside over the "dismantling'' of vocational education--a reference to the Administration's plan to "zero-out'' the $882-million program next year--Ms. Guiton said, "In all good conscience, I could not go along with that.''
She added, however, that Secretary of Education William J. Bennett "is a supporter of vocational education,'' and only proposed to curtail funding for budgetary reasons.
Mr. Bennett would like to see more creative uses of existing resources for the program, Ms. Guiton said, because "too many kids are falling through the cracks.''
After the hearing, Senator Simon said he expected all three nominees to be approved by the committee and confirmed by the full Senate.