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Critics of Agency Continue To Cite Mismanagement

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WASHINGTON--The Education Department's embattled rehabilitation-services administration has come under renewed Congressional criticism.

The agency's management "on the one hand seems to have lost its sense of direction, and on the other hand, seems to be fearful of the people it was created to serve,'' Representative Major R. Owens, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Select Education, charged during a March 16 hearing by his panel.

Mr. Owens, a Democrat from New York, called for a "bill of rights for the disabled'' as a means of correcting alleged management problems in both the R.S.A. and its parent agency, the office of special education and rehabilitative services.

But Madeleine C. Will, the Education Department's assistant secretary in charge of OSERS, expressed confidence that her agency's problems are being resolved.

"I feel that we are moving in a forward direction,'' she told the panel.

For example, she said, the rehabilitation agency is close to being fully staffed. Of its 15 current vacancies, she said, eight are scheduled to be filled within "one or two weeks.''

Ms. Will also noted that the President had nominated Susan S. Suter, the state vocational-rehabilitation director in Illinois, to replace Justin W. Dart Jr. as head of the RSA

Mr. Dart resigned under pressure from the White House last year after he gave a strongly worded critique of the agency at a hearing before Mr. Owens's panel. (See Education Week, Dec. 9, 1987.)

Ms. Suter's appointment is seen as a conciliatory move toward state rehabilitation directors, who have voiced criticisms similar to Mr. Dart's.
Other witnesses called for "a fresh start'' in relations among the subcommittee, OSERS, and vocational-rehabilitation groups.

Meanwhile, in an ironic postscript to Mr. Dart's resignation, The President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped has named him the 1988 "Handicapped American of the Year.''

The award, formally known as the President's Trophy, is the country's highest honor for a person with a disability, according to committee officials.

Mr. Dart, who was disabled by polio at age 18, has been a long-time advocate for the handicapped.--D.V.

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