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Federal File: On the job at E.D.

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An inquiry by the General Accounting Office has disclosed a relatively high number of cases at the Education Department--including two that investigators term suspicious--in which political appointees were "converted'' into civil servants.

The G.A.O. studied the period between February 1988 and December 1989 because such activity generally picks up after a Presidential transition. It found 86 conversions made by 30 agencies.

Although the Secretary of Education's office did not change hands at that time, the department had nine conversions, the third-highest number among all agencies. The Interior Department led with 11, followed by the Energy Department with 10.

Investigators closely studied 46 conversions made by the top 7 agencies, and found that 37 of them "appeared proper.''

In seven cases, the G.A.O. found that the political appointee probably received an "improper'' advantage. One of those cases involved an aide to the Secretary of Education's private-education liaison, who was hired for a new civil-service post with essentially the same duties.

The E.D. also accounted for one of two instances in which investigators found that hiring procedures were not followed. In that case, the names of two of four qualified applicants for a post were not submitted to the Office of Personnel Management. E.D. officials said it was an oversight.

Another recent G.A.O. study found that the Education Department's workforce contains a higher percentage of racial minorities than that of any other agency and the second-highest percentage of women.

The study found that the federal workforce has experienced the same changing demographics as the national labor market but in more exaggerated form.

While the percentage of women in the nonfederal workforce rose by 4.2 percent from 1976 to 1990, it rose by 7.2 percent in federal agencies. Racial minorities posted similar gains in the federal labor force during the period.

According to the G.A.O., minorities represented 46 percent of the Education Department's workforce in 1990, the highest percentage of any agency. Next in line was the Department of Housing and Urban Development, with a minority workforce of 39.1 percent. The lowest proportion of minority workers--16 percent--was in the Agriculture Department.

The E.D.'s workforce was 58.1 percent female in 1990, exceeded only by the Department of Health and Human Services, with 64.9 percent. The overall average was 42.8 percent, with the Transportation Department the lowest at 25.4 percent.--J.M.

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