Federal File: Not satisfied; High-profile pork; Getting political; Party line

By Karen Diegmueller — August 05, 1992 3 min read

The Bush Administration apparently has a lot to learn about the Puerto Rican community.

Shortly after President Bush appointed a 17-member Advisory Commission on Hispanic Education, Puerto Rican activists complained about lack of representation, as only one member claimed Puerto Rican heritage.

In June, Mr. Bush added to the panel Jose Gonzalez, the president of Inter-American University in San Juan, P.R. But that was not enough to satisfy ASPIRA, an organization that promotes education and leadership development among Puerto Rican youths.

In a news release, ASPIRA praised the appointment of Mr. Gonzalez.

But it also noted that half of the 2.7 million Puerto Ricans living on the U.S. mainland live in only 10 Northeastern cities, and that the panel’s other Puerto Rican member is from California.

“ASPIRA believes that until someone who can relate to the experience of these millions of citizens is appointed to the commission, the commission’s recommendations will lack validity,’' the statement said.

“The mainland Puerto Rican community, after working diligently for the signing of the President’s executive order mandating this advisory commission, has waited almost two years for representation,’' it said. “The ASPIRA association urges President Bush to act now to right this inequity.’'

Earmarking federal grants for hometown institutions is a common practice on Capitol Hill. But Senator Robert C. Byrd carried off a piece of educational pork sufficiently large to prompt an unusually critical article in The Washington Post.

The article was caustic enough that the West Virginia Democrat took to the Senate floor to defend himself.

The projects in question are a $13-million “classroom of the future,’' designed as a demonstration of how mathematics and science instruction can be improved, and a $28-million “national technology transfer center,’' which will disseminate information from government laboratories to private industry.

The $41 million in grants that is going to Wheeling Jesuit College is almost three times the 1,400-student institution’s annual budget.

Senator Byrd, the powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, slipped the grants into appropriations bills covering the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which administers the programs.

The Post article appeared in late June. On July 2, Mr. Byrd mounted his defense.

“Both of these programs are serious initiatives designed to address perceived serious national deficiencies,’' he said. Mr. Byrd cited “the lamentable state of mathematics and science education in this country.’'

Mr. Byrd also argued that the official peer-review process favors a relative handful of large institutions, and produces questionable proposals such as “a study of the sexual aggression of fish in Nicaragua.’'

The Education Department has a particularly high proportion of political appointees, according to a recent General Accounting Office report.

The report studied trends in appointments of noncareer members of the Senior Executive Service and “Schedule C’’ employees, who are appointed noncompetitively to positions that involve the formulation and advocacy of Administration policy.

The S.E.S. positions are generally high-level management posts, while Schedule C positions are lower-level staff jobs.

As of Dec. 31, 1991, the Education Department had 137 political appointees, about 2.6 percent of its 5,000-person workforce. Five agencies had more political workers, but they are all larger agencies, and no other agency’s workforce is even 1 percent political.

For example, the Commerce Department, which had the most political appointees with 204, has more than 37,000 employees, and the appointees constitute about 0.5 percent of the workforce.

Within the Education Department, the Secretary’s office had the most political appointees, 20, a pattern the G.A.O. said is typical governmentwide.

Significant concentrations of political workers were also found in the Office of Postsecondary Education, the Office of Intergovernmental and Interagency Affairs, and regional offices.

President Bush has been cheered in recent weeks as he has promoted his voucher plan and contended that the Democrats are captives of the teachers’ unions. But his audiences were a bit friendlier than the one Vice President Quayle faced at a National Conference of State Legislatures conference last week.

Mr. Quayle received a mixture of cheers and boos when he mentioned school choice, but was booed more loudly when he criticized the National Education Association.

It probably did not help that Mr. Quayle also attacked lawyers and politicians, two groups that were well represented at the conference.--J.M. & K.D.

A version of this article appeared in the August 05, 1992 edition of Education Week as Federal File: Not satisfied; High-profile pork; Getting political; Party line