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Federal File: Filling slots; A novel brief

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Sharon Robinson, the director of the National Education Association's National Center for Innovation, will be named assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, sources at the N.E.A. and the Education Department said last week.

Ms. Robinson has long been rumored to be the leading candidate for the post.

David Longanecker, the executive director of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, is rumored to be the leading candidate for the post of assistant secretary for postsecondary education.

Deputy Secretary of Education Madeleine M. Kunin is also chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts--at least on paper.

The Clinton Administration named her acting chairwoman last month to comply with the Vacancies Act, an obscure 1868 law requiring that leadership vacancies at federal agencies be filled temporarily for no longer than 120 days. Longer vacancies must be filled by federal officials who have been confirmed by the Senate, and Ms. Kunin qualifies.

An endowment spokeswoman said the arrangement will not affect the operation of the agency, which will continue to be run by a career official who has been in charge since the change of administrations in January.

The U.S. Supreme Court's refusal last week to review a legal battle over a sunken ship was a disappointment not only to the salvors who found it in 1987, but also to a group of educators who had filed an unusual friend-of-the-court brief in the case.

The Court declined to review a lower-court ruling that the wreck of the S.S. Central America did not belong to the salvors but instead belonged to the descendants of American and British insurance companies that had paid claims after it sank in 1857.

The side-wheel steamer carried gold nuggets, bars, and coins, and the gold is said to be worth as much as $1 billion today.

The educators' brief urged the Justices to review the case. Their argument was novel, if perhaps not legally weighty: The search for the Central America led to educational tie-in projects, and a ruling discouraging future undersea exploration "threatens to diminish invaluable educational opportunities made possible by modern telecommunications.''

The project yielded a cable-television documentary and a videodisk curriculum for middle and high schools. In addition, students at six South Carolina schools talked with project workers via amateur radio, while working to plot the ship's location and calculate the value of its gold.--J.M & M.W.

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