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Federal Files: Empty desks; A Congressional warning

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Six high-ranking positions in the Education Department remain vacant, and department officials say the White House is to blame.

A spokesman said the department had sent names of proposed nominees to the White House for every position but that of assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, and officials are anxiously awaiting further action.

The other empty positions are those of deputy undersecretary for management and assistant secretary for postsecondary education, educational research and improvement, civil rights, and vocational and adult education. All but the last of those slots were vacated by Reagan Administration appointees in March; the vocational-education post has been empty since May.

Although a lack of key personnel is not a problem confined to the Education Department, the department was found to have the most high-level vacancies of any federal agency in a recent survey by the Washington Post.

By August 1981, in contrast, President Reagan had filled all the Presidentially appointed slots at the department.

In a report accompanying the 1990 budget bill it approved last week, the House Appropriations Committee issued a warning to school districts contemplating drawing new theoretical boundaries to increase their share of federal impact aid.

In June, the North Dakota Board of Education decided to make the Grand Forks Air Base a separate school district, which would be autonomous in name only for two years; then it would actually operate separate schools.

During that time, its impact aid would go to the nearby Grand Forks district, where air-base children are actually enrolled. The money would be a boon to the system, whose impact-aid enrollments have dropped to the point that it may lose eligibility for the highest level of aid--and about $1 million a year.

Now other districts are considering the same maneuver, an appropriations aide said last week.

The report says the panel is "very concerned about this manipulation" although it may be technically legal, and directs the Education Department to take action "to prevent this abuse."

The aide said that the Congress would "give the department a lot of latitude" in changing policy, if that were necessary.

"But we really hope this will have a chilling effect within the community, because they know very well that they are dependent on the Congress for their money," he said.--jm

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