Federal File: Devolution?

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Alice M. Rivlin, whom President Clinton has selected to replace Leon E. Panetta as the director of the Office of Management and Budget, has said the federal government should not be in the business of financing schools.

In a 1992 book she wrote as a resident scholar at the Brookings Institution, Ms. Rivlin suggested that the federal government eliminate its involvement in elementary and secondary education. She also said federal officials are fooling themselves if they think they can foster school reform from Washington.

In Reviving the American Dream: The Economy, the States, and the Federal Government, Ms. Rivlin called for state and federal governments to divide public-spending responsibilities.

Such functions as national defense, air-traffic control, and Social Security should remain in federal hands, Ms. Rivlin said, while education and training should fall to the states.

"The federal government is not well suited to take responsibility for improving education, training, and infrastructure or fostering economic development," she wrote, citing areas the Clinton Administration has since stressed in its domestic agenda.

"These are functions of government that require experimentation, adaptation to local conditions, accountability of on-the-scene officials, and community participation and support," she argued. "State and local governments are more likely than the federal government to carry out these functions successfully."

Writing during the Bush Presidency, Ms. Rivlin took aim at many of that Administration's education proposals, some of which have become part of Mr. Clinton's Goals 2000 agenda.

"Improving education will take bottom-up reform. Presidential speeches and photo opportunities, national testing and assessment, federally funded experimental schools, even new grants spent in accordance with federal guidelines can make only marginal contributions to fixing the schools," she wrote.

"An 'education President' can help focus media attention on schooling, but he risks diluting state and local responsibility by implying that Washington can actually produce change," she said.

The nomination of Ms. Rivlin, who was Mr. Panetta's deputy at the O.M.B., is awaiting Senate approval.

Vol. 14, Issue 04

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