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Published in Print: December 6, 2000, as Amid Uncertainty, Transition Plans Continue

Amid Uncertainty, Transition Plans Continue

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Even as the results of the presidential election remained tied up in court battles last week, Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore both pushed ahead with plans for a transition. But there was no indication from either camp about whom they might select as secretary of education.

Meanwhile, high-ranking Department of Education officials held their first meeting last week to set up a process for replacing the agency's political appointees. Deputy Secretary of Education Frank S. Holleman was named to coordinate the effort.

Disputes over the election in Florida, whose 25 electoral votes will determine the next president, continued in several courtrooms last week. Most notably, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments last Friday on Mr. Bush's contention that the Florida Supreme Court should not have allowed manual recounts that Mr. Gore hoped would shift the state to his column.

Against that backdrop, both candidates tried last week to assure the public that they were ready to become president without appearing presumptuous about the election's ultimate outcome.

The Republican governor, who was certified the winner of Florida's election on Nov. 26 but has refrained from assuming the title of president-elect, was further along in his transition plans than his Democratic rival. Mr. Bush held a photo opportunity Nov. 30 with retired Army Gen. Colin L. Powell, who is seen as an almost-certain nominee for secretary of state in a Bush administration.

But no clear favorites to succeed Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley have emerged.

"The transition process is really just beginning," said Sandy Kress, an education adviser to the Bush campaign. "I don't think there's much that's been resolved."

Gov. Bush's running mate and transition chairman, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Richard B. Cheney, suggested at a news conference that Mr. Bush might name one or more Democrats to a prospective Cabinet.

One such Democrat under consideration for the education post, according to news reports, was Gov. James B. Hunt of North Carolina, who is widely viewed as a top contender for the secretary's job in a Gore administration.

But Gov. Hunt's press secretary, Tad Boggs, noted in an e-mail message to Education Week that the two governors differ, among other things, on the contentious issue of school vouchers. Mr. Bush supports them, while Mr. Hunt strongly opposes them.

"Hunt's response to the rumor was, 'One, I haven't been contacted, and, two, I'm not interested,'" Mr. Boggs wrote in the e-mail.

Mr. Bush's only public comments last week regarding education came during a brief, nationally televised address from the Texas state Capitol in Austin, shortly after his certification as the winner in Florida. He promised to try to work with Democrats in what will be a closely divided Congress, and he singled out education as one of a few potential areas of agreement.

"Vice President Gore and I had our differences of opinion in this election, and so did many candidates for Congress," the governor said. "But there is broad agreement on some important principles. Republicans and Democrats agree we need to provide an excellent education for every child at every public school."

He offered no details, however, on how the two parties might resolve their significant differences over such issues as vouchers and increased federal funding for reducing class sizes, a Democratic priority that most Republicans in Congress have opposed.

'Plenty of Time'

Meanwhile, President Clinton issued a memorandum last week instructing all agencies to produce catalogues of all their positions that require a presidential appointment and Senate confirmation. The agency heads were also ordered to prepare orientation materials for new political appointees before the Jan. 20 inauguration.

Last week, a handful of career employees and Clinton administration appointees held their first meeting to map out plans to comply with those orders, said Terry K. Peterson, the senior counselor to Secretary Riley. The team will prepare a report on the transition process in 1992, which Mr. Peterson expects will also be followed by the new administration.

"I think there's plenty of time, and I think we'll be ready," said Mr. Peterson, who also served on the transition team when Mr. Clinton was first elected eight years ago. Transition efforts in the department didn't begin that year until late December, shortly after Mr. Riley was appointed.

Otherwise, business at the department continued as usual last week, said Roberta Heine, the spokeswoman for Secretary Riley.

"We're as busy as ever here," she said. She noted that Mr. Riley has scheduled events for nearly every day in the near future, and added that department officials were awaiting news from Congress on a still-pending budget plan for this fiscal year.

Vol. 20, Issue 14, Pages 22,24

Web Resources
  • "Congress May Exit With a Whimper," Nov. 30, 2000, from Roll Call, discusses the unusual situation Congress finds itself in.
  • "Vesuvius," Commentary, from The Nation's Jonathan Schell, Dec. 18, 2000. Mr. Schell worries that events in the weeks since the election may signal the tone of things to come.
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