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Federal File: Porkfish?; Buyout anxiety

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Rep. Jolene Unsoeld, D-Wash., may have brought some pork back to her home state by putting more fish on school cafeteria trays.

An amendment she added to the Child Nutrition Act at a recent markup would modify a purchasing rule in the school-lunch program to allow schools to accept a wider variety of seafood products in compliance with new Food and Drug Administration regulations. Currently, schools can buy seafood only from processors who hire expensive on-site inspectors.

The new seafood options Ms. Unsoeld has in mind are such Northwest specialties as salmon nuggets.

Washington State, according to a spokesman for Ms. Unsoeld, is the nation's second-largest seafood producer, after Alaska.

The act would reauthorize a host of child-nutrition programs. A House committee has passed its bill, and the Senate is expected to take up its version in a few weeks.

As the Education Department attempts to implement a slew of new initiatives enacted this year, the agency will have to contend with the loss of nearly 400 veteran employees to a federal buyout offer.

A total of 345 employees have already packed up their things, and an additional 46 have deferred their departures for up to one year to finish projects, a department spokesman said. The buyouts--which include payments of up to $25,000--were offered to employees based on sliding combinations of age and years of federal service as an incentive to leave before the standard retirement age of 65.

The buyouts represent nearly 8 percent of the department's roughly 5,000 employees, and were spread across the agency, including its regional offices, the spokesman said.

A spokeswoman for the Office of Personnel Management said that the Education Department's buyout figures are "pretty high,'' compared with other agencies, but that the O.P.M. had not worked out similar percentages for all the departments because the buyout program is not yet complete.

"We're suddenly losing a lot of people doing critical jobs,'' Undersecretary of Education Marshall S. Smith said. "It provides for a little bit of anxiety.''

The Education Department spokesman said no decision has yet been made on how--and how many--vacancies will be filled.
--LYNN SCHNAIBERG

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