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Four E.D. Jobs Rated as 'Prunes' Among Federal Plums

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Copyright 1988 The Prune Book, published this month by the Center for Excellence in Government, lists what current and former top officials say are the 116 most critical management and policymaking jobs below the Cabinet level.

The title is a play on the "plum book"--the unofficial title of the government manual that lists the more than 3,000 policymaking and patronage jobs subject to Presidential appointment.

The Education Department posts cited in the new book are un4dersecretary--the department's second-ranking position--and the assistant secretaries for civil rights, postsecondary education, and special education and rehabilitative services.

The Prune Book was written by John H. Trattner, a former Foreign Service officer and State Department spokesman, with the assistance of 350 current and former occupants of the top jobs in the last four administrations.

The book is critical of the Education Department, which it says suffers from "the absence of a steady direction for long-range policy" and "a largely disaffected constituent community."

Since education is a top priority for both the Congress and the public, it argues, the department "must develop a greater sense of mission and of relevancy."

The book offers the following assessments of the department's four "prunes":

Undersecretary of education. The key task for this position, it says, is to "discipline and improve the department's upward flow of information so that the secretary can speak and act with confidence and credibility."

The post needs "an executive mind, not ideological passion," said one former holder of the job.

Assistant secretary for civil rights. The office for civil rights, which the assistant secretaryel10lleads, is in "constant controversy," said a former office-holder.

The office's agenda, the source said, has increasingly centered on personal-harassment and handicapped-rights issues, rather than racial discrimination.

Assistant secretary for postsecondary education. Through its oversight of student financial aid, the book notes, this position has a major impact on most college students. One former officeholder said the agency is not really accepted by the higher-education community, and recommended building stronger links to top institutions.

Assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services. This job can be tough because there is no one person or agency coordinating federal policy on the handicapped, said one officeholder. A lobbyist criticized the office for not providing more leadership to the states.--mw

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