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Place this one in the "now there's a surprise" file. Rep. William D. Clay, D-Mo., the ranking Democrat on the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee, has issued a report card on the 104th Congress. And it flunks the committee's Republicans in nearly all subjects.

The GOP members get such poor marks, Mr. Clay said in a news release, for "failing America's children and working families."

Mr. Clay predicted that next fall, voters will render a similar verdict on the first Republican-controlled House in 40 years, which he called "a disaster for education and working families."

In the category "improving America's schools," a sort of umbrella grade for overall effort, the ranking Democrat gave committee Republicans an F. Mr. Clay also gave them a failing mark for "setting the education agenda for the 104th Congress," "expanding access to higher education," "improving student achievement and reforming schools," and "commitment to educating disadvantaged children."

He conceded a grade of D for "protecting schoolchildren from drugs and violence."

A committee spokeswoman could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Clay was much more conciliatory last week, however, at a hearing called by the committee's chairman, Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., on success stories in the public schools. (See related story.)

"Mr. Chairman," Mr. Clay said, "we commend you for convening a hearing that applauds a few of the many successful things taking place in our nation's public schools."

The Department of Education has a new inspector general.

Thomas R. Bloom, who was nominated by President Clinton last summer, was sworn in last month.

In his new job, Mr. Bloom will oversee audits and investigations of department operations, as well as the use of federal funds by education-related organizations, schools, and school districts.

Mr. Bloom, who graduated from the University of Michigan in 1975, most recently served as the Department of Commerce's chief financial officer and the assistant secretary for administration.

"It is my pleasure to welcome Mr. Bloom to this critical position," Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said. "He has the experience and expertise the job demands."

--Mark Pitsch & Robert C. Johnston

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