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Owens Renews Attack on Center

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Washington--Representative Major R. Owens, chairman of the House Select Education Subcommittee, has renewed his attacks on the Education Department's proposed research center on disadvantaged students.

"A shadow of suspicion and doubt has been cast over the integrity and accountability of the grant-awarding process for the proposed new center," the New York Democrat charged at a Sept. 29 hearing.

Department officials have "refused to consult" with the Congress about funding for the center, Mr. Owens contended.

He urged that the current grant process be discontinued, and that a new center with far more than the planned funding of $1 million be created for research solely on the education of inner-city youths.

Mr. Owens's subcommittee issued a report last month calling on the department to withdraw its request for proposals for the center and start over again. (See Education Week, Sept. 21, 1988.)

No one from the department attended the hearing to defend the proposed center.

Chester E. Finn Jr., who stepped down as assistant secretary for educational research and improvement on Sept. 30, gave two reasons for department officials' decision not to testify.

First, he said in an interview, the hearing was to discuss a contract for which bidding is still under way. "There are protocols of procurement," he said. "There are a lot of things you don't talk about."

Moreover, he contended, the hearing amounted to "grandstanding" by the subcommittee, which had contacted him the day before testimony was due. "There was not a lot of time to prepare," he said.

"The subcommittee could do a lot of good," Mr. Finn added. But that would take an effort "a lot more sustained and purposeful than an autopsy of one contract ... an autopsy of something still alive," he said.

The panel heard testimony from representatives of several organizations that also have raised questions about the center, including the American Educational Research Association, the Carver Research Foundation, the Center for Education and the American Economy, and the Southwest Center for Educational Equity.--k.g.

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