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Federal File: Acerbic memories

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Amid the recent flurry of Bush Administration memoirs is a book of particular interest to students of education policy.

In White House Daze: The Unmaking of Domestic Policy in the Bush Years, Charles Kolb, who served in the White House and the Education Department from 1980 through 1991, paints a bleak portrait of the Bush Administration's domestic-policy apparatus.

Mr. Kolb describes Roger B. Porter, Mr. Bush's assistant for economic and domestic policy, as a timid bureaucrat who was completely overshadowed by Richard G. Darman, the budget director, and John H. Sununu, the White House's crusty, "bad cop'' chief of staff.

"Porter ran the policy office by keeping his head down, taking lots of notes at meetings, and not making waves,'' Mr. Kolb writes. "He allowed himself to be consumed by process while making certain that his staff was kept occupied in pointless tasks.''

As for Mr. Darman, he was sufficiently distrustful to have proposed a large increase in Head Start funding but "ordered the wrong numbers sent to the Department of Health and Human Services ... so it would not learn the truth until the very last minute.''

White House Daze, published by the Free Press in October, includes a chapter on policymaking in education--which Mr. Kolb says the Administration missed countless chances to exploit as a political issue--and one about "the week they fired Lauro Cavazos'' as Education Secretary.

Mr. Kolb says Mr. Sununu erred in failing to consult the Secretary's confidants. When told he could be ambassador to Costa Rica or the Dominican Republic, Mr. Cavazos sought confirmation from the President that he was fired.

Annoyed, Mr. Cavazos refused the offers, and his resignation omitted language the White House had sought about the pleasure of having served Mr. Bush and how the midpoint in a term is a good time to leave.

"Sununu's mistake--and the President's--was in not having sent early warning signals,'' Mr. Kolb writes. "That would have let Cavazos down gently and would probably have forestalled the abrupt departure, which left the White House in the awkward position of having to deny the obvious.''

Mr. Kolb also supports the belief that Mr. Cavazos, nominated in the last months of the Reagan Administration, was chosen mainly to boost Mr. Bush's appeal to Hispanics in the 1988 election.

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