Federal

Bush Chooses Hansen For Deputy Secretary

By Joetta L. Sack — March 14, 2001 7 min read
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In a long-anticipated announcement, the White House said last week that President Bush would nominate William D. Hansen, a lobbyist for a higher education finance group, to serve as the deputy secretary of education. That job is the No. 2 post in the Department of Education.

Mr. Hansen, 41, has been the executive director of the Education Finance Council, a Washington group that lobbies for nonprofit student-loan lenders, since 1993. He also has been a member of the Bush administration’s transition team.

He is known as a moderate with extensive experience in federal management, having served as the department’s assistant secretary for management and budget and chief financial officer under former President George Bush. Mr. Hansen began his career in the agency as a legislative assistant in the early 1980s.

“He’s a very solid person, who I think will be good for the department,” said John F. Jennings, the director of the Center on Education Policy and a former aide to Democrats on the House education committee.

Mr. Hansen’s nomination will require confirmation by the Senate.

Joe Karpinski, a spokesman for the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said he foresaw no problems, adding, “He’s been a real leader in education, and he’ll be a tremendous asset to the department.”

In related news, Secretary of Education Rod Paige chose Susan Sclafani to serve as his counselor and Beth Ann Bryan as a senior adviser.

Ms. Sclafani worked as the chief of staff for the Houston Independent School District when Mr. Paige was the superintendent there. Ms. Bryan was an education adviser to President Bush when he served as the governor of Texas and to the Texas Governor’s Business Council.

There was no word last week on the nomination for undersecretary, the No. 3 job, or the department’s assistant secretaries. Eugene W. Hickok, the Pennsylvania secretary of education, has been rumored for weeks to be the top contender for the undersecretary’s slot.

Feelings of Uncertainty

The Bush administration has been much slower so far in filling the 140 or so political jobs at the Education Department than the Clinton administration was in 1993, when Democrats took control of the White House from Republicans.

Secretary Richard W. Riley, who had served as the chief of President Clinton’s transition team, came to the office in January 1993 with several key advisers already in place. He appointed a deputy and an undersecretary by the first week of February.

Observers said this year’s delay was largely a result of the protracted dispute over the outcome of the 2000 presidential election. The Bush administration got a late start, and the FBI is now being deluged with requests to conduct background checks on potential nominees. Mr. Paige himself, however, was in the first batch of Cabinet appointees confirmed by the Senate on Inauguration Day in January.

“It takes a while to get these things done,” said Christopher T. Cross, the president of the Council for Basic Education and a former assistant secretary in the first Bush administration. “The fact that the administration was late getting started means the pipeline is very clogged, and there’s only one pipeline.”

A former senior aide to Mr. Riley noted that the former secretary already had about a dozen advisers on board when he took the reins.

“To be fair, Secretary Riley’s position as head of transition personnel, and his very close relationship to President Clinton, probably put us in an extremely advantageous and unique position,” said the aide, who asked not to be named. “By contrast, the 2000 election gave this administration a very late start, unfortunately. But, there are many, many experienced, entirely nonpartisan career officials who want very much to be helpful and are hoping the new administration will take them up on their offers to be of assistance.”

With only a handful of political appointments in place at the Education Department, the White House has taken the lead so far on important school matters, Washington observers note. In fact, President Bush unveiled an extensive package of education proposals within days of taking office. (“Bush Unveils Education Plan,” Jan. 23, 2001.)

Though Mr. Paige has testified before Congress and traveled across the country to promote the president’s “No Child Left Behind” agenda, several of the Bush campaign’s top education advisers—including Margaret LaMontagne, Nina Shokraii Rees, Sandy Kress, and Sara Youssef—were placed at the White House instead of the Education Department.

That development has left some observers wondering how much of a role the department will ultimately play in shaping the new administration’s legislative agenda. Both the House and Senate have already held hearings on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the nation’s main federal K-12 law.

Administration officials are “making a mistake if they do not work with department people,” Mr. Jennings said. “Most people want to feel like they’re contributing, whether with a Republican or Democratic administration.”

But Mr. Cross said he wasn’t surprised that the White House appears to be a larger player.

“This is more than an ordinary reauthorization of ESEA, because it’s the first priority of the president,” he said. “Whenever you have something that is a very high priority, the White House tends to get involved.”

Secretary’s Moratorium

Some current career employees in the Education Department and others who have ties to the agency have stated privately in interviews that the management of education matters thus far has contributed to a feeling of unease within the department.

Of course, uncertainty is common at the start of any new administration. Some of the longest-serving employees can reflect back to 1981, when President Reagan came to Washington vowing to eliminate the Education Department. Although Republicans in recent years have backed off from the goal of shutting down the department, and President Bush has vowed that it will remain a vital part of the federal government, each administration and secretary may reshuffle jobs and programs.

Mr. Paige has not yet indicated his plans. But a memo he sent by e-mail to department employees on Jan. 24 that outlines the current transition procedures caught some off-guard.

It stated: “Effective immediately I am placing a moratorium on all policy decisions, personnel selections, reassignments or promotions, and the awarding of any new grants or contracts. This should be interpreted as a freeze on any official action that would have the effect of committing the department to a particular policy or course of action. ... This moratorium is temporary and is intended to allow me an opportunity to review existing or pending policies and procedures.”

Lindsey Kozberg, a spokeswoman for Secretary Paige, said the procedures were all part of a normal transition into a new administration. She added that last week the agency had begun to release some new regulations and reports.

And Don McAdams, a member of the Houston school board and friend of Mr. Paige’s, said the secretary’s moratorium was justified. The secretary wants to make sure that he has a feel for the inner workings of the agency, and that everyone hired under him is competent and ethical, Mr. McAdams said. Mr. Paige is also very sensitive to employee needs, Mr. McAdams added.

Some believe Secretary Paige would be wise to oversee the Education Department’s employees more closely than has been the case in the past. The agency is currently the subject of a General Accounting Office investigation concerning alleged fiscal mismanagement, and for two years, it has been unable to achieve a clean financial audit.

“We’re very hopeful Mr. Paige will address many of the problems we’ve raised over the past several years, regarding employees and management of finances,” said Jon Brandt, a spokesman for Rep. Peter Hoekstra, the Michigan Republican who has spearheaded a House investigation into allegations of fraud and mismanagement at the department.

Last week, some employees and observers expressed optimism that the arrival of Mr. Hansen and Ms. Sclafani would help answer their questions.

“The fact that Bill [Hansen] has finally been announced is going to ease some of the uncertainty the career people have been feeling,” said one Washington lobbyist. “Bill knows these people well.”

Staff Writer Alan Richard contributed to this report.

A version of this article appeared in the March 14, 2001 edition of Education Week as Bush Chooses Hansen For Deputy Secretary

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