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Gore Seeks E.D. Employees' Opinions On Increasing Efficiency

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WASHINGTON--Vice President Gore last month took his "reinventing government'' road show to the Education Department, where he solicited suggestions from employees on how to make the agency more efficient and effective.

Mr. Gore's appearance at the forum, one of a series, is part of a governmentwide initiative that is to culminate in a package of proposed regulatory and legislative changes that the Vice President said would be announced Sept. 8-10.

Some of the proposals will be specific to individual agencies, each of which is under study by a "reinventing government'' team. Others will be "cross-cutting'' proposals to change governmentwide rules in such areas as budgeting and procurement, Mr. Gore said.

For example, he said, the Administration is considering proposing a two-year budget cycle, which would make planning easier and reduce agencies' incentives to spend money thoughtlessly in an effort to avoid losing it at the end of a fiscal year.

At the Education Department, Mr. Gore toured the agency's child-care center. Then the Vice President, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, and Deputy Secretary Madeleine M. Kunin each held the hands of two children, and took a carefully choreographed walk out into the center's sand-covered outdoor play area.

Mr. Gore and Mr. Riley sat on stools in the middle of the playground, and took questions and statements from several of about 400 assembled employees.

The Vice President elicited murmurs of approval and nodding heads as he talked of "rules and regulations so rigid they put people in a straitjacket,'' the need for "flexibility to shift resources,'' and the Administration's "commitment to empower employees.''

Complaints Registered

Several employees registered complaints about the department's computer system, which they said is outdated and lacks coherence and is incapable of supporting electronic mail, an advance the speakers said would greatly improve the efficiency of a department spread through several buildings. In addition, they said, having the computers serviced by contractors means there is no in-house computer expertise.

Mr. Gore said that this is a governmentwide problem and that his initiative includes a task force working solely on a plan to solve it.

Several employees also complained that the agency's staffing level has not kept pace with an increased load of programs to manage. A worker in the office of postsecondary education said the division responded to mandates to cut staff members by eliminating oversight functions, contributing to the mismanagement of student-aid programs.

"It's very difficult to have quality negotiations and monitoring when I'm handling 200 grants a year,'' said Michael P. Ludwick, an employee in the grants-and-contracts division.

The Clinton Administration has pledged to decrease, not increase, the size of the government payroll, and Mr. Gore did not promise more workers. But he said the Administration would propose regulations that would allow managers to shift employees between offices and programs to better manage the workload.

Mr. Gore was also sympathetic to a complaint about rules barring agencies from paying for college-degree courses or training not related to an employee's current job.

"We should have a commitment to the advancement of our people,'' he said.

Gary Hanna, an employee in the office of intergovernmental and interagency affairs, said he was frustrated because federal privacy regulations prevent him from telling educators about colleagues in other schools who are experimenting with innovative methods.

Other complaints covered the more familiar territory of excessive government paperwork. One woman said it took a month to process the applications of volunteer summer interns, which she called "a prime example of inefficiency.''

Renee Johnson, the director of the child-care center, said that if she submitted a request now to purchase a piece of playground equipment, it would probably not arrive until November, when she could buy the same item for less in a store.

The Education Department distributed 400 tickets for the forum among its top officials, who distributed them among their employees. Some employees said their offices used a lottery system; others said they found tickets on their desks the morning of the event and had no idea how they were selected.

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