Congress Set To Fight Over Panel Overseeing Goals
By Lynn Olson and Julie A. Miller
WASHINGTON--The White House and the nation's governors appear headed for a fight with the Congress over how to monitor progress toward the national education goals set earlier this year.
At their annual meeting in Mobile, Ala., this summer, the governors approved the creation of a national panel to monitor the goals that would limit Congressional participants to a nonvoting, ex officio status.
Educators and other members of the public would not be included on the panel as presently constituted.
Since then, members of the Congress have expressed their displeasure with the proposal and have threatened to create their own monitoring panel to oversee the endeavor.
Representative Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, called the newly created panel "ridiculous."
Educators, state and federal lawmakers, and parents should be involved in the monitoring process, he said. And he vowed that Congressional lawmakers would "do something of our own" to make that happen.
Several House and Senate aides predicted last week that lawmakers would include some sort of "watchdog" panel in the omnibus education bill that is expected to emerge from a conference committee this month. Some said the creation of such a panel was a virtual certainty.
If so, the nation could wind up with two separate panels to monitor progress toward the goals: each vying for attention and resources, and each issuing its own verdict regarding the gains that have been made.
Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado, chairman of the panel created by the governors and endorsed by President Bush, is working strenuously to prevent that from happening.
"Surely, we're smart enough in this country not to have people proceeding on dual paths," he said last week. "I just think that it's our obligation on all sides to get into one working unit and get the job done."
Mr. Romer said he will tell members of the Congress that the panel will operate by consensus, "and therefore there is no distinction between ex officio and fully voting members."
But he added that if the Congress was not satisfied with that solution, the governors could consider change configuration of the panel at their midwinter meeting in February. "I think that any panel, if it found that there was an impairment or a barrier to its work, would try to remove it," the Governor stated.
The current fight will determine who controls how progress on the goals is measured and presented, both of which processes have political ramifications for the federal and state politicians who could be held responsible for the results.
The governors adopted their proposal for a "National Education Goals Panel" on July 31, the final day of their summer meeting, after several days of protracted behind-the-scenes negotiations.
The National Governors' Association's task force on education had hoped to reach an agreement on the panel by Sunday, July 29, when a public meeting of the task force was scheduled. But that meeting was canceled at the last minute so that governors could continue hashing out a plan in private.
Roger B. Porter, chief domestic policy adviser for the White House, participated in the negotiations for the Administration.
The compromise was designed to prevent the federal government or either political party from dominating the panel.
The policy adopted by the governors establishes a 14-member body, including six governors (three from each party), four federal officials appointed by the President, and four Congressional leaders. (See related story, page 39.)
The latter would include the Senate majority and minority leaders, the Speaker of the House or his designee, and the House minority leader, all of whom were invited to serve in an ex officio, nonvoting capacity.
The panel's chairman will be appointed annually by the chairman of the NGA, ensuring that the position rotates between both parties.
Although the panel will try toall decisions by consensus, a 75 percent majority of the voting members will be required to break any impasse.
The provision was designed to ensure that one political party could not control the process, as long as all voting members were present.
In addition to grading the states on their progress, the panel will report on the federal government's ability to fulfill its part of the agreement outlined last fall at the education summit in Charlottesville, Va.
This includes increasing federal funding for education, providing more flexibility in federal spending, and controlling mandates that limit the states' ability to finance the schools.
The provisions for some type of federal report card were added to allay Democrats' concerns that President Bush would put the onus for meeting the goals on the states, without providing adequate support at the federal level.
"My feeling is there never has been a partnership with the federal government," said Gov. Richard Celeste, Democrat of Ohio, "and the issue is whether we're going to create one. The federal government has been unpredictable and its involvement has been faddish."
Although the policy states that the panel will seek the advice of experts in the "education research and measurement communities," it does not call for the creation of an advisory group. Gov. Carroll Campbell, Republican of South Carolina, said that issue would be left up to the panel to decide.
Governor Romer said the panel plans to "use the very best minds in America" as it proceeds with its work. This involvement could take the form of an advisory group to the panel or of specific assignments to various individuals, he said.
On July 27, the day before the governors' meeting began, Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell of Maine and Speaker of the House Thomas S. Foley of Washington sent a letter to the chairman and vice-chairman of the NGA in which they urged the governors not to create a panel composed solely of elected officials and to work with the Congress to establish a group that would be created by law.
The Democratic leaders argued that "a panel including objective, distinguished citizens of diverse political views who are widely recognized for their knowledge of or commitment to education would best insure ... accountability."
The letter also said that to be meaningful, discussions about the monitoring process should include the Congress, "which establishes the majority of education policy for the federal government."
The panel as created ignores this advice on both counts. Although some Democratic governors had favored giving Congressional representatives on the panel full voting status, Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas said they did not have the "supermajority" required to win on that issue.
As a result, the final solution was not well received on Capitol Hill.
The plan "was not intended to ensure accountability and was not intended to ensure independence ofonitoring group, but instead was intended to provide cover for those who otherwise should be held accountable," said Senator Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat who is the chief sponsor of a Congressional monitoring proposal.
Lawmakers are expected to consider Mr. Bingaman's plan to establish an independent monitoring panel when a House-Senate conference committee meets on omnibus education legislation this fall.
Mr. Bingaman's bill, S 2034, would establish a permanent "National Council on Educational Goals," whose panel of experts would produce annual "report cards" on the country's educational achievement.
On the House side, HR 5115, an omnibus bill approved in July, would also establish a monitoring panel appointed solely by Congressional leaders, as part of the preparation for a "national education summit."
The summit of educators, legislators, and others would be designed in part to review the goals and how they might be implemented.
The Bush Administration opposes both the summit proposal and the Bingaman bill, but most observers think it would be difficult for the self-proclaimed "education President" to veto education legislation in an election year, particularly if it contains his own initiatives, as HR 5115 does.
Meanwhile, the shape of the Congressional monitoring panel remains an open question. Because the House bill includes no provision for a permanent panel, the Senate's actions in the coming weeks are crucial.
For an omnibus education conference to occur, both the House and Senate bills must contain similar provisions.
At present, HR 5115 contains some of President Bush's education initiatives, as well as some literacy and teacher-training measures and other miscellaneous proposals.
The Senate has passed two bills to deal with the Bush initiatives and literacy programs. A third bill, dealing with teacher training, is also pending. Aides said the Senate now must consolidate all three bills in order for an omnibus conference to occur.
One Senate aide said committee leaders would move to wrap all three proposals into one bill when the teacher-training measure was brought to the floor. At that time, they could also include proposals not yet approved by the Senate, such as Mr. Bingaman's bill.
A hearing on the bill is scheduled this week. The committee aide said it would focus on "how the bill fits" with the governors' plan, which the aide said "is not entirely contrary."
Some aides said the lawmakers might seek to negotiate with the governors or the White House before Senate floor action or during the ensuing conference.
If competing monitoring panels were created, lawmakers could try to prevail by cutting off money for the gubernatorially created panel that the White House attempted to prohrough federal appropriations.
Charles E.M. Kolb, deputy assistant to the President for domestic policy, refused to speculate on how the White House might react to a second, Congressionally created monitoring panel. But he said that the panel as currently structured "is the appropriate" one.
No decisions have yet been made on staffing or funding the panel. But Governor Romer said he was considering a five-person staff that could be funded entirely with private-sector money, if necessary.
Meanwhile, the Colorado Governor vowed to work with members of the Congress to "try to make them effective partners in this panel." As of last week, Congressional leaders had not responded to letters inviting them to participate on the panel as it is currently structured.