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Federal File: Lobbying; Farewell?

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The chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee cried foul last week over an "open letter to Colorado voters'' in which Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander lobbies for a voucher measure that will be on the ballot in next week's election.

Rep. William D. Ford, D-Mich., asked the General Accounting Office whether the letter violates laws limiting government mail to "official business,'' or a law governing the specific type of mail permit Mr. Alexander used.

"The Secretary should mind his own business,'' Mr. Ford said in a statement.

In response, Mr. Alexander said the letter qualifies as "official business'' under several laws.

"Helping families have more choices of good schools is exactly the business of the Secretary,'' he said.

The measure would require legislators to provide parents with vouchers that they could use at public or private schools.

Goodbyes always seem awkward when bid a second time, as was the case this month when the President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans said "hasta luego'' to John Florez, the executive director.

Mr. Florez got his first send-off at the panel's August meeting, and Etta Fielek, a spokeswoman for the department, said afterward that he had resigned for personal reasons. Hispanic advocates suggested he had been frustrated over a lack of support from the Bush Administration.

Mr. Florez proceeded to muddy the waters by telling people that he had not really resigned.

And then he surprised panel members by attending their Oct. 12 meeting.

"I haven't resigned yet. As far as I am concerned, I am still on leave,'' he said Oct. 12, adding that his status would be clarified in a meeting the next day with Secretary Alexander.

That meeting was closed to the media, except for a television crew, which filmed Mr. Alexander giving Mr. Florez a plaque.

"I think all of us are confused,'' observed Raul H. Yzaguirre, a commission member and the president of the National Council of La Raza.

Lanny Griffith, the department's assistant secretary for intergovernmental and interagency affairs, said Mr. Florez had resigned six weeks before, was using accumulated leave time, and had come to Washington to assist the commission.

Mr. Florez said again last week that he had never resigned, but that, "for family reasons,'' he had made it known that he would not come back from taking annual leave at his home in Utah.

Mr. Alexander last week named the new executive director of the commission, Carol Pendas Whitten, a panel member and former federal bilingual-education official.--J.M. & P.S.

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