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Published in Print: May 26, 1999, as Renomination Blocked, Forgione To Depart

Renomination Blocked, Forgione To Depart

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The federal commissioner of education statistics unexpectedly announced his resignation last week after the White House refused to support his renomination because he failed to meet income-tax deadlines for eight consecutive years.

Pascal D. Forgione Jr., who has led the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics since 1996, said the Clinton administration did not want to risk congressional or public criticism of his reappointment, even though he has not violated federal tax law.

Pascal D. Forgione Jr., citing delays in filing his federal income-tax returns, will step down as statistics commissioner next month.
--Benjamin Tice Smith

For the past eight years, Mr. Forgione said, he has applied for an extension before the April 15 filing deadline for federal income-tax returns. But each of the years until this one, he missed the Aug. 15 deadline granted under those extensions. He has not paid penalties or been subjected to criminal charges, he said, because each year he has been due a refund.

But the pattern has created an ethical cloud that administration officials did not want, he said. Mr. Forgione decided to withdraw his name from consideration last week so he can pursue other jobs.

"I felt that at this point we couldn't move any further, and maybe I had to move on," he said about his resignation, which takes effect June 21. An interim replacement has not been named.

No one raised any questions about his returns when President Clinton nominated him in 1995, Mr. Forgione added, nor when the Senate confirmed him in 1996. But last month, he said, he learned that his tax situation might be an obstacle to his renomination.

Administration Differences

News of the resignation set off speculation that the popular and respected commissioner was being forced out because he had clashed with Clinton administration officials in recent months.

At a hearing the day after Mr. Forgione's departure was announced, Chester E. Finn Jr., an Education Department official under President Reagan and a frequent critic of the administration, suggested to a House committee that the administration likely had a political motive for wanting to remove Mr. Forgione. At the time, Mr. Forgione's income-tax problems were not publicly known.

In February, Mr. Forgione sided with members of the National Assessment of Educational Progress governing board who said Vice President Al Gore had jeopardized the credibility of NAEP by announcing 1998 reading-test results at a campaign-style event. Board policy calls for the statistics commissioner to release the scores from the federal testing program.

A few days before Mr. Forgione's resignation, he announced the findings of a widely anticipated analysis of state-by-state results of those scores to see if any states had benefited because they excluded higher percentages of disabled students in 1998 than they had in the past. The review suggested that Kentucky and Maryland may have seen unwarranted increases in scores. ("Board Won't Revise State NAEP Scores," May 19, 1999.)

In an interview last week, Mr. Forgione said the only differences he has had with administration officials have been over how to present data, such as at the event where Mr. Gore dominated the stage. "We've had contentiousness over how to proceed, but I've never felt anything that would be out of line," he said. "It's only been over the presentation [of the research], not the design."

House Republicans plan to go ahead with a previously scheduled hearing May 27, where Mr. Forgione and others are scheduled to testify about the recent problems with NAEP.

"If [politics] played a role in his departure, we will be very concerned," said Vic Klatt, the education coordinator for Republicans on the Education and the Workforce Committee.

Spokesman for Statistics

Regardless of the circumstances, Mr. Klatt and others expressed regret that Mr. Forgione will leave his post. The former Delaware schools superintendent has won accolades from many quarters.

"Pat Forgione has mastered a very demanding job," Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said in announcing the commissioner's departure. "Pat has worked hard and with great energy to ensure the quality, predictability, usefulness, and timeliness of the important information [the NCES] provides to the American people."

"There's no question that his departure is a great loss to the agency," said Andrew C. Porter, the director of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research and the chairman of the NCES advisory board. "He's been an effective and popular spokesperson for education statistics."

Not everyone has been pleased with Mr. Forgione, however.

The recent release of the analysis of state NAEP scores gave critics ammunition to attack Kentucky's reforms based on a worst-case scenario, said Robert F. Sexton, the executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, a group that supports the state's school improvement drive.

"There was more haste than thoughtfulness" in the release of the report, Mr. Sexton contended.

Mr. Klatt and others said Mr. Forgione's departure leaves the NCES leaderless at an inopportune time. Congress is scheduled to review and reauthorize the statistics agency this year or next.

Vol. 18, Issue 37, Page 3

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