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Federal File: A fond farewell; A clouded departure

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A casual observer at the National Press Club might have been surprised to learn that last week's congenial luncheon speaker has often been described with such adjectives as "combative" and "strident."

In his final speech as Secretary of Education, William J. Bennett said that life in the federal city wasn't so bad, after all.

Contrary to warnings he had received, Mr. Bennett said, he learned it is possible to get things done, to avoid compromising on principle, and for officials in a conservative Administration to receive fair treatment from the media.

In addition, he offered himself as living proof that officials do not have to dress neatly or abandon family life to succeed.

"I've found in this town that a lot of people put a premium on having 20 pink slips in their call box at 9 at night," he said. "Every day I was in town, with very few exceptions, I was home for dinner."

Maybe Mr. Bennett just wanted to avoid official banquets.

"I have eaten a lot of poached salmon and I don't like it," he said. "I never could get used, in this town, to being treated as if I were a large house cat."

When asked if he were interested in running for the Senate, Mr. Bennett said he now has no plans to run for any office, but might be interested in the future.

"You may, indeed, have Bill Bennett to kick around some more," he said, "and that's fine with Bill Bennett."

Ronald P. Preston, until recently Assistant Secretary Chester E. Finn's right-hand man at the office of educational research and improvement, said last week from his new office in the Defense Department that he had been asked to resign.

"The official reason," said the former deputy assistant secretary for policy and planning, is that the decks needed to be cleared as Mr. Finn and Mr. Bennett depart. Of course, to banish everyone who might be replaced would require a lot of resignations.

Mr. Preston declined to say whether there was more to the story. Observers inside and outside of oeri offered several theories as to why Mr. Finn apparently fired a loyal conservative.

Mr. Finn declined to discuss the matter. He said through an aide that he had accepted Mr. Preston's resignation, and added: "He is a fine man."

The former Republican Senate aide now works to obtain Congressional approval for military-base closings. After years of asking for more money for education research, Mr. Preston joked, he decided to "go to the source" and free up some cash.--jm

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