Education Dept.’s Exit Door May Open Soon
Other Personnel Shifts Likely to Accompany Change at Helm
The impending departure of Secretary of Education Rod Paige and the start of President Bush’s new term are expected to result in an exodus and a reshuffling of high-ranking personnel at the Department of Education.
Washington observers expect a number of political appointees to follow Mr. Paige out the door, including Deputy Secretary Eugene W. Hickok, the department’s No. 2 official.
With a second presidential term and a new secretary at the helm, it’s not unusual to see wide turnover in any federal department.
“It’s very common,” said Larry J. Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. Assistant secretaries and other top agency officials “do most of the work,” he said. “They’re valuable to a lot of lobbying firms.”
In addition, the federal jobs are stressful. “Those jobs are burnout jobs,” Mr. Sabato said.
Sixteen political positions at the Education Department, from assistant secretaries to other agency leaders, require Senate confirmation. And many of the people now in those slots will likely feel it’s time for a change. Though education insiders are trading rumors about who may stay and go, few were willing to go on the record with their speculation.
Education Department spokeswoman Susan Aspey said she did not have information last week about personnel changes.
While it’s commonly believed that Mr. Hickok will leave the department, the future of Undersecretary Edward R. McPherson, who joined the department in April and deals mainly with fiscal and management issues, is not known. The Senate only got around on Nov. 20 to confirming Mr. McPherson as the department’s No. 3 official and Mr. Hickok’s formal shift from undersecretary to the deputy secretary’s post.
In particular, Mr. Hickok may be feeling the burnout cited by Mr. Sabato. The deputy secretary has been viewed as the enforcer when it came to dealing with state officials on implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act.
But others said administration officials may want to start fresh when it comes to those who oversee the No Child Left Behind Act.
“It looks like they’re purging all the people that have the baggage,” said one education expert in Washington.
As for who might fill the department’s senior positions in the president’s second term, that’s still mostly a matter for speculation, beyond Mr. Bush’s selection of his chief domestic-policy adviser, Margaret Spellings, to succeed Secretary Paige. ("President Picks a Trusted Aide for Secretary," Nov. 24, 2004.)
One name that keeps coming up for Mr. Hickok’s position is Raymond J. Simon, the current assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education. He is viewed by some as a nice complement to Ms. Spellings, given his experience both as the former state schools chief and a longtime district superintendent in Arkansas.
But some wonder whether Mr. Simon would fit in the deputy secretary’s job, which deals with a broader portfolio, including higher education and civil rights. The department’s No. 2 official is also is responsible for frequent dealings with Congress.
“He may have that skill set,” said another knowledgeable education observer. “I’ve just never seen it.”
Instead, Mr. Simon may see the power and scope of his current position expand, some say.
While there is speculation that Ms. Spellings might seek to woo former White House education adviser Sandy Kress back to Washington from his home in Austin, Texas, that’s likely to be a tough sell. More probable is that David Dunn, a domestic-policy aide to President Bush and a close associate of Ms. Spellings, may take a senior Education Department position.
Ms. Spellings recruited Mr. Dunn for a job in the administration after the two worked together at the Texas Association of School Boards. In March, Mr. Dunn began working out of the Education Department, though he retained his White House title.
Susan K. Sclafani, the assistant secretary for vocational and adult education, is said to be interested in staying at the department, though she is closely associated with Secretary Paige. Ms. Sclafani, who is well respected in education circles, worked with Mr. Paige in a variety of roles in the Houston school district when he was the superintendent there. She declined to comment when asked recently about her plans.
Assuming Ms. Spellings is confirmed by the Senate—as is widely expected—she may want to keep the knowledgeable Ms. Sclafani in her current post, said Bruce Hunter, the chief lobbyist for the American Association of School Administrators.
Sally L. Stroup, the assistant secretary for postsecondary education, is also expected to stay on at the department, as is Nina Shokraii Rees, the deputy undersecretary in charge of the department’s office of innovation and improvement.
Vol. 24, Issue 14, Pages 26,28