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Federal File: Resignation; New chief; Bush slips

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Michael J. Farrell, the businessman brought to the Education Department last April with the charge of reforming management of financial-aid programs, told reporters last week that he resigned as deputy assistant secretary for financial aid because of disagreements with Deputy Secretary David T. Kearns, the agency's number-two official.

"You discuss approach and you discuss resources and things like that and at some point you mutually decide that never the twain shall meet," said Mr. Farrell. "When you take on a job you have to have the authority vested in you to get the job done."

Mr. Kearns, Mr. Farrell said, thinks "that you can get things done with the organization the way it exists, and I want more resources under my immediate control."

Mr. Farrell said he proposed reorganizing the way the department oversees financial aid, a plan he acknowledged was opposed by some civil servants, but discounted a news report that his unpopularity forced his resignation.

Through a spokesman, Mr. Kearns said he was "very surprised" by Mr. Farrell's remarks. "Whatever difference in management style or priorities were minor and part of a normal business relationship," the spokesman said.

Mr. Farrell said he told Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander in early October that he planned to resign as soon as Carolynn Reid-Wallace received Senate confirmation as assistant secretary for postsecondary education, a post he filled on an acting basis.

Mr. Alexander was mentioned by some observers as a candidate to succeed John H. Sununu, who resigned last week as President Bush's chief of staff. Also mentioned was former Gov. Thomas Kean of New Jersey, who, like Mr. Alexander, was active in education issues as a governor.

When asked about the rumor at a news conference, the Secretary offered only an enigmatic smile.

Secretary of Transportation Samuel K. Skinner, the front-runner, was later tapped for the job.

A defect in the White House's public-relations machine was revealed last month when religious-school educators meeting with President Bush asked scripted questions on vouchers and educational standards in the wrong order.

The President reportedly figured out which answers to give. But reporters learned of the staging practice after Mr. Bush, assuming wrongly that his microphone was off, complained about the glitch. --M.P. & J.M.

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