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Federal File: Joint efforts?

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In their appearances on Capitol Hill and before advocacy groups, Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich and Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley have worked so hard to project an image of close, harmonious collaboration between their agencies that observers have joked about whether they are joined at the hip.

But their first joint legislative venture, an education-reform bill that would also create a national skills-standards board, raises questions about the limits of interagency collegiality.

The skill-standards section was written at the Labor Department and added to the rest of the "goals 2000'' bill only after several drafts had circulated on Capitol Hill--with an otherwise blank page noting the spot where the Labor language would be inserted.

And the bill has left vocational educators scratching their heads in dismay over a provision that appears to leave the Education Department out in the regulatory cold.

The provision would give the Secretary of Labor the sole authority to award grants to coalitions of industry, labor, and education groups to develop voluntary national skills standards, based upon the board's requests. There is no equivalent role for the Education Department.

In a letter to Congressional leaders, the National Association of State Directors of Vocational Technical Education complained that the provision "calls into question'' the Administration's claims about sharing responsibility and decisionmaking between the two departments.

"My understanding is that the Labor Department drafted that entire section and did not confer with the Department of Education,'' said Bret Lovejoy, the director of government relations for the American Vocational Association. "It ignores the fact that the Education Department has been doing much more on skills standards than the Labor Department has.''

The Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act of 1984 required states to form technical committees of business and education representatives to develop standards for vocational-education graduates. An unpublished study funded by the Education Department found that over 700 such committees now exist.

In addition, the labor and education departments last year awarded $4.7 million in grants to coalitions developing industry-based skills standards. The Education Department is scheduled to announce more awards this month.

"Isn't it time that we begin to design federal legislation to include the conditions necessary for collaboration rather than the one-upmanship that has so often been created?'' the N.A.S.D.V.T.E.'s letter asks. "This bill is an excellent place to start.''--L.O.

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