Bill Would Halt N.I.E. Contract Cancellations

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The Senate Appropriations Committee has added an amendment to a House-approved bill that, if passed by Congress, would settle the controversy over a National Institute of Education (NIE) plan to end, one year early, existing contracts with the nation's 17 federally supported educational laboratories and research centers.

Attempt to Assure Completion

The amendment, inserted in the "urgent supplemental appropriations bill" by Senator Harrison H. Schmitt, Republican of New Mexico, is intended to assure the completion of the five-year laboratory and research center contracts, according to a report accompanying the bill.

The amendment states: "The Secretary of Education and the Director of the National Institute of Education shall not terminate any long-term special institutional agreement (or any other grant agreement or contract which incorporates by reference such long-term special institutional agreement) which (1) was entered into under section 405(f) of the General Education Provisions Act, relating to laboratories and centers, and (2) is in effect on the date of enactment of this Act, prior to the original completion date established by such long-term special institutional agreement."

"This will resolve our legal dispute with NIE," said Joseph Schneider, director of the Council for Educational Development and Research, an organization that lobbies for 16 of the 17 labs and centers.

Although the bill that contains the amendment still must be approved by the full Senate, Mr. Schneider says he is "almost 100 percent sure" the bill will become law. A spokesman at NIE who works with the labs and centers said NIE would have no comment on the proposed amendment until it has had more time to evaluate it.

NIE's director, Edward A. Curran, first notified the directors of the labs and centers early in March of his decision to end their contracts early.

Terminating these contracts would allow NIE to press ahead with a new research agenda--examining such topics as tuition tax cred-its, home schooling, and the potential benefits of studying the classics.

The labs and centers argue that their contracts run for five years; Mr. Curran says they are three-year contracts.

A legal opinion that was prepared by the Education Department's office of the general counsel and that supports Mr. Curran's position, relies heavily on language contained in a report that accompaNIEd the Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1981. The cited portions of that report expressed the Congress's desire that awards of contracts and grants to the laboratories and centers be handled on a competitive basis in the future.

Force of Law Intended

That language does not have the force of law, however, and the proposed amendment would.

The new report accompanying the amendment also restates Congress's original intent to have competitive bidding for lab and center contracts in the future.

The eight regional labs and nine research centers were formed in 1964. In the past, their work has been reviewed after three years and extended if the review warrants.

Vol. 01, Issue 35

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