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Release of 1989 Spending Proposal Delayed

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Washington--The late finish of the fiscal 1988 budget battle had only minor effects on the Education Department's operations, but the delay set back release of the department's proposed 1989 budget at least six weeks, according to Bruce M. Carnes, deputy undersecretary for planning, budget, and evaluation.

Because 1988 funding levels remained an open question until the passage of an omnibus spending bill Dec. 21, he noted, the Office of Management and Budget did not respond to federal agencies' budget requests for fiscal 1989 until late last week.

The omb had been scheduled to reply to the agencies in November.

The Administration's budget proposals are usually announced in early January, but the omb's director, James C. Miller 3rd, indicated in a letter to the Congress last week that the budget would not be ready until mid-February.

"The 1988 base affects, to a greater or lesser extent, what you are going to do in 1989 or how you are going to look at 1989," Mr. Carnes said.

But the uncertainty over the 1988 figures has not significantly altered the Education Department's spending plans for 1989, he added.

"The final appropriations are so close to what we anticipated that very few things had to be revisited," he added.

Larger Request Expected

Because many grants are awarded late in the fiscal year and almost all federal education programs are "forward funded"--meaning that money appropriated in one fiscal year is actually spent the next year--the uncertainty also had little practical effect on department operations, Mr. Carnes said.

"What was really of concern was that until we actually get the appropriation, we can't get our competitions going" for grant programs, he added, "and we weren't that well under way in funding continuing projects."

"We were worrying that we were holding back money from grants that we would later have to put back in," he said.

Department officials have said that their 1989 budget request will be the first in years to ask for increases, and that it will contain policy initiatives tied to increased accountability for recipients of federal education funds.

Mr. Carnes declined, however, to elaborate on the department's plans.

"I'll leave that to" Secretary of Education William J. Bennett "for his press conference," he said, noting that "it remains to be seen what o.m.b. will do."

"We put forward some good ideas, but they don't look at education in a vacuum," he said.

Mr. Carnes indicated confidence, however, that a higher-than-usual funding request would survive o.m.b. scrutiny.

As a result, he predicted, "the budget issue"--a major source of friction between the department and the Congress since the start of the Reagan Administration--"is not one that will really be on the table for 1989."

Susan Frost, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, a lobbying group, said she was not surprised that the department was planning to request more funding for 1989, given the "bipartisan outcry" that greeted last year's Spartan proposal, which sought cuts totaling $5.5 billion.

But she expressed concern that the change of heart might be coupled with unacceptable changes in policy.

"The programs will have higher levels next to them, but will we recognize what they are?" she asked.

Ms. Frost also predicted that continuing pressure to reduce the budget deficit will make it difficult to win funding increases even with less opposition from the department.--jm

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