White House Downplays Scope Of Appointee's Education Role
Washington--Roger B. Porter, President Bush's domestic-policy adviser, confirmed last week that John E. Chubb had been tapped for an education-related White House post but downplayed the job's significance.
The post the White House sought to fill, Mr. Porter said, was a previously existing position on his staff that involved routine "liaison" duties with the departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Education. It was not a new position, he said, and it would not be focused exclusively on education.
But sources with knowledge of the hiring process affirmed last week that Mr. Porter had sought an education expert to play an advisory role solely on education.
Mr. Chubb, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, had told Education Week that he had accepted a new and "unprecedented" position that would involve advising the President on education issues. (See Education Week, April 12, 1989.)
He said he was to start May 15, provided that the White House was satisfied with the result of background investigations and top-level officials gave final approval.
Mr. Chubb, who declined further comment last week, had said he would use the position to promote parental choice and school restructuring, ideas the political scientist has espoused in publications and interviews over the past few years.
"The key for me and the reason I'm taking [the job] is that I think the President is interested in improving the sorry state of our schools," he said.
Mr. Chubb also said in the initial interview that any White House adviser would be likely to clash with the executive agency overseeing the same area and that part of his job would be to "provide a counterpoint to the [Education] department."
"Any way we can improve communications between our offices is a good thing," Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos said April 9, before Mr. Chubb's remarks were published. "I don't see it as an encroachment."
Cavazos Said Sole 'Adviser'
But the Secretary's aides said last week that Mr. Chubb's comments about conflict with the department had angered the Secretary.
Bill R. Phillips, Mr. Cavazos' chief of staff, said Mr. Chubb had "an overinflated ego" and was "out of touch with reality."
"He isn't going to be an education adviser," Mr. Phillips said. "Lauro Cavazos is the President's education adviser."
On April 5, Mr. Porter responded "yes" when asked by a reporter whether it was true that he "had been interviewing people to be a Presidential education adviser."
"We're closing in on someone," Mr. Porter said. "We've just about got a deal cut."
But in an interview last week, Mr. Porter said that Mr. Chubb was either misquoted or mistaken about the job he was offered.
"There isn't any education adviser position," Mr. Porter said.
He said Mr. Chubb had been selected to replace a White House aide, Kate Moore, who has been nominated to be assistant secretary for budget in the Department of Transportation.
The job of "associate director of domestic policy" involves acting as a "liaison" with the departments of Education, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, Mr. Porter said. He said he never intended to hire anyone solely to give advice on education, adding that ''we have many advisers in many areas."
He stressed that he did not intend to hire an aide who would challenge the authority of Secretary Cavazos.
"I have a very good working relationship with the Department of Education. I have a very good working relationship with Secretary Cavazos," Mr. Porter said. "We worked very closely together on the set of education measures the President has submitted to the Congress."
One prominent educator, who was said by others to have compiled a list of names in the field to be considered for the post, said he also understood it that way.
"I believe it is the case that they were looking for somebody who could bring a flair for education to fill the job," said Chester E. Finn Jr., former assistant secretary of education, but "I never heard it depicted as an education adviser's job."
However, several others, including those interviewed, disagreed. They said they were never told that the job would involve any duties unrelated to education.
The job was characterized as "advising the White House on education issues," a source said, adding that the interview included discussion that "for the first time, we are creating a focused position on education in the White House."
The source noted, however, that the job description was not firm, and speculated that Mr. Chubb might have spoken to Education Week partly to "smoke out" the White House's level of commitment to an advisory post.
Another source said the position was meant to be "a very serious education job" focused "exclusively" on education. The source's "impression" was also that it was to be a new position, at least in terms of its focus.
White House officials wanted an "absolute luminary" to be the staff's "education heavy," whose duties would include speaking to interest groups and the press, and assisting in the formulation of policy, the source said.
The sources noted that those interviewed for the job were academics or professionals whose expertise is in education. Ms. Moore, the aide Mr. Porter said Mr. Chubb would replace, has a different background.
Ms. Moore worked on President Bush's campaign staff and on the transition team, and was director of the budget office at the National Enel10ldowment for the Arts from 1981 through 1988.
'Think Education Thoughts'
Observers familiar with the workings of the White House agreed that the decision to add an education expert to the staff in some capacity probably signaled increased interest in the topic.
"I think it's a good idea, although I suspect that if I were in Secretary Cavazos' shoes, I would not like it as much," said Gary L. Bauer, who said he had heard about the pending creation of an advisory post.
"It means the department will not have a blank check on education ideas," as "there will be someone at the White House whose job is to think education thoughts," said Mr. Bauer, who served as undersecretary of education and domestic-poli4cy adviser in the Reagan Administration.
"I suspect that the President is serious about the idea of becoming an education President and this is something of a signal that he thinks he needs more troops than he has now," Mr. Bauer said.
"The notion of someone with education in his portfolio is customary, not unprecedented," said Mr. Finn, who also served on the White House staff during the Nixon Administration.
"The historical eccentricity here is that, in the last four years of the Reagan Administration, there was very weak White House control over domestic policy," he said.
But "the mere fact of the person in that job being an education specialist, rather than a standard Kennedy School generalist," Mr. Finn said, referring to graduates of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, "might mean that we'll see more education activity coming out of the White House."
"It's a symbol of a greater interest in education at a time when [President Bush] knows his budget resources are small and he knows he can't launch any further federal initiatives," said Stuart Eizenstat, who was domestic-policy adviser in the Carter Administration. "It's a way of demonstrating concern by bringing it closer to the Oval Office.''
Mr. Eizenstat said an education adviser should be part of the domestic-policy staff, rather than in "a free-standing position." Such a person would be less effective without "institutional moorings," and could create conflict, he said.
"I think it's an admirable instinct," Mr. Eizenstat added, "but it must be organized in a careful way so as not to undercut either the Secretary of Education or the domestic-policy adviser."