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Merging E.D., Labor Would Save $21 Billion, Backers Say

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Washington

The Education Department would be dramatically downsized and merged with two other federal agencies under a proposal that four key House Republicans unveiled last week.

Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Wis., the chief architect of the plan, which would merge the Education Department with the Labor Department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said it is an effort to better structure services provided by federal education and labor programs.

"Few people have looked at the overall delivery structure," Mr. Gunderson, a member of the House Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities, said at a news conference.

"More than any other proposal," he said, the proposed structure "properly defines the legitimate federal role in education and workforce issues in a global, 21st-century economy."

The plan was endorsed by three other committee members who attended the news conference: Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the panel's chairman; Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham, R-Calif., who chairs the committee's Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth, and Families; and Rep. Howard P. (Buck) McKeon, R-Calif., who chairs the Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education and Training.

Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., who has called for the outright elimination of the Education Department, "very much likes this concept," Mr. Gunderson said.

Meanwhile, the 73 freshman House Republicans last week announced that Rep. Joe Scarborough, R-Fla., will chair a task force that will study the feasibility of eliminating the department.

Mr. Gunderson claims that his proposal would save at least $21 billion over five years. But the proponents did not detail the programmatic and personnel changes they would make.

Few Details

They said such provisions would evolve as Congress makes spending and authorization decisions about specific programs.

"We'll have at least 100 different versions [of the proposed structure] before we're done," Mr. Gunderson said.

The $21 billion estimate is based on a "working draft," he said.

The proposed new agency--the "department of education and employment"--would have a secretary, a deputy secretary, and three assistant secretaries.

An assistant secretary for workforce preparation and policy would oversee an office of basic education, an office of higher education, and an office of workforce training and lifelong learning. Two other assistant secretaries would be responsible for civil rights and workplace-policy issues.

In addition to consolidating management of programs under the current Education and Labor departments, proponents said they would transfer administration of Head Start from the Health and Human Services Department to the new agency.

An Education Department spokeswoman said that Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley has had a "very, very, very general discussion" with the plan's proponents and that Administration officials "will review [the proposal] very carefully."

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