President Bush filled two senior posts at the Department of Education late last month using a procedure that circumvents Senate approval.
Raymond J. Simon, the former director of the Arkansas Department of Education, is the new assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education. Robert Lerner, a Rockville, Md.-based social scientist, is the new commissioner of education statistics.
The president nominated Mr. Lerner more than six months ago, while Mr. Simon’s name was put forward Sept. 22.
On Dec. 26, Mr. Bush announced the “recess” appointments of 12 federal officials, including the two for Education Department posts. Three new members of the board of directors of the Corporation for National and Community Service were also on the list.
The president has the constitutional authority to make appointments during congressional recesses without Senate approval, though they are of limited duration. Unless his selections are confirmed by the Senate, the 12 recess appointments will expire in January 2005.
Presidents occasionally use the procedure to install controversial nominees who have run into opposition in the Senate. Mr. Lerner’s nomination has encountered resistance from some education researchers, civil rights groups, and gay rights organizations. Much of the debate has focused on his writings for conservative organizations and his strong stands on social issues. (“Lerner’s Writings Raise Objectivity Concerns,” June 18, 2003.)
The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee approved the selection of Mr. Lerner on Oct. 29. However, the ranking Democrat, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, asked to be on record opposing Mr. Bush’s choice. The National Center for Education Statistics, the Education Department branch led by the statistics commissioner, has not had a permanent head since 1999.
Jim Manley, a spokesman for Sen. Kennedy, described the White House decision to install Mr. Lerner without full Senate approval “disappointing but not unexpected.”
The nomination of Mr. Simon, meanwhile, had not yet been considered by the Senate education committee, but he did not appear to face opposition in the chamber. The choice of Mr. Simon drew praise from both Democrats and Republicans, and it had the support of key school groups in Arkansas, including the Arkansas School Boards Association and the Arkansas Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association.
Mr. Simon replaces Susan B. Neuman, who resigned in January of last year.