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Federal File: Ethical error; Tie talk; High-tech humor

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Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander has held his office only two months, but has already violated a government ethics law--one that forbids officials from endorsing commercial products.

The product is a new book by the Vanderbilt University professor Chester E. Finn, Jr., a long-time friend and adviser.

Mr. Alexander provided a blurb for the book's jacket that praises it as "valuable reading" and says "it saved me six months." He did this after his nomination was announced but before he was confirmed as Secretary, and he apparently thought he would be identified on the jacket as president of the University of Tennessee, his previous title.

But he was identified as the Secretary, creating the ethics violation. The publisher was asked to take corrective action.

Mr. Finn made reference to the problem at a recent breakfast he held to promote the book, saying that Mr. Alexander would have attended if it weren't for the ethics restriction.

He settled for former Secretary William J. Bennett--under whom Mr. Finn served as an assistant secretary.


President Bush and Mr. Alexander hoped to draw attention to their education agenda with their trip to St. Paul last week. But some of the White House reporters who accompanied them on their tour of a local school appeared to be more interested in the position of Mr. Alexander's tie.

As the Secretary entered a classroom at the Saturn School of Tomorrow, one reporter said excitedly, "His tie's caught in his pants." Several reporters then walked over to ask him about it.

"That's the way I always wear it," Mr. Alexander said with a chuckle, presumably in jest.

For the remainder of the event, the White House correspondents discussed the tie situation and checked to see whether the Secretary had rectified it. They even asked Roger B. Porter, Mr. Bush's chief domestic-policy adviser, about Mr. Alexander's sartorial habits.


Mr. Bush's efforts to attain computer literacy have turned into a running gag.

When Mr. Bush was invited by a Saturn School class to make use of a computer system used to convey questions and answers between a teacher and students, Mr. Alexander said: "Mr. President, I think you should tell them when you started taking your first computer lesson."

In another classroom, a student told the President that she was working on her keyboarding skills.

"That's about where I am," said Mr. Bush, who proved to be a fairly quick two-fingered typist.--j.m.

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