Rush of Confirmations Populates Paige's Executive Suite

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The lights of the Department of Education's executive suite are not only on, but now, finally, more than a handful of people are home.

Eight new members have joined what had for months been a skeleton crew of top-ranking political appointees, after the Senate confirmed more of President Bush's nominees. Some of those appointments had languished in the Senate for as long as three months.

Approved on July 11 were Undersecretary Eugene W. Hickok, the agency's No. 3 official, and Assistant Secretaries Susan B. Neumann, for elementary and secondary education; Grover J. "Russ" Whitehurst, for educational research and improvement; and Becky Campoverde, for congressional and legislative affairs.

Eugene W. Hickok

The next week, on July 19, the Senate approved the nominations of Assistant Secretaries Carol D'Amico, for vocational and adult education; Laurie Rich, for intergovernmental and interagency affairs; and Robert Pasternack, for special education and rehabilitative services. Senators also confirmed Joanne M. Wilson as the commissioner of the Rehabilitative Services Administration.

In each case, the Senate acted unanimously on a voice vote.

The Senate has now confirmed Secretary of Education Rod Paige—who breezed to approval on Inauguration Day—and nine of his top staff.

'Treasured Blessing'

In recent weeks, the secretary has expressed frustration with the lengthy process of nominations and confirmations. The process at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue in the first months of the Bush administration has been even slower than normal, and some predict it could be next year before Mr. Paige has his full team in place.

In a July 26 interview, Mr. Paige said he was writing a letter to members of Congress to ask them to ease the arduous and time-consuming gantlet top nominees must endure before taking their jobs.

"To have them in place is a treasured blessing," Mr. Paige said in the interview, referring to his cadre of new lieutenants. "I hope that we can, as federal leaders, especially in Congress, create a system that improves the pace in which people are confirmed."

Meanwhile, President Bush on July 10 announced his selection for the Education Department's chief financial officer, a post that oversees much of the financial dealings of the agency. The selection will also have to be approved by the Senate. The nominee, Jack Martin, 60, is the managing director and chief executive officer of Jack Martin and Co., a Washington firm that specializes in financial-management consulting for domestic federal agencies. In recent years, he has worked extensively with the Department of Health and Human Services.

The chief financial officer's job, which has been vacant for three years, is to oversee the Education Department's accounting systems and budget. That official will also help put in place a new internal-accountability plan and oversee what has been a problem-ridden accounting system for the agency.

No Rubber Stamps

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee—the panel that considers the education nominees—agrees it is important to get people on the job, but plans to be diligent about the required background checks, said Jim Manley, a spokesman for the chairman.

"Senator Kennedy feels it's important to get these people through," Mr. Manley said, "but that doesn't mean we'll be rubber-stamping."

One position remaining to be announced is the assistant secretary for postsecondary education, the job that oversees the agency's sizable higher education and student-loan divisions. Last month, Secretary Paige denied rumors that Mr. Bush was having problems finding a candidate. And he disputed the inference that the lack of an appointment for that job means the administration does not place a high priority on postsecondary education.

The Senate education committee had not yet received paperwork on Gerald A. Reynolds, whom President Bush selected in June to head the Education Department's office for civil rights, as of last week, Mr. Manley said. The Senate is on recess through Labor Day and will not consider nominations until then.

Vol. 20, Issue 43, Pages 36, 41

Published in Print: August 8, 2001, as Rush of Confirmations Populates Paige's Executive Suite
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