President Bush announced last week his intention to fill the No. 3 position in the Department of Education with a top financial officer from another federal agency, a move supporters say will help preserve fiscal order at the department.
Edward R. “Ted” McPherson, the chief financial officer for the Department of Agriculture, will be nominated to the job of undersecretary of education, the White House and the Education Department said on Oct. 28.
That role would call for him to serve as a key adviser to Secretary of Education Rod Paige, whose senior staff has seen several departures recently. The same day as the announcement about Mr. McPherson, the secretary named Anne Radice, a former foundation executive, as his chief of staff.
A Texas native, Mr. McPherson, 58, has years of financial experience in government and private industry, but little apparent expertise on school issues. His appointment still requires Senate confirmation.
The undersecretary traditionally serves as a principal adviser to the secretary on matters ranging from the budget and strategic planning to education policy. Several observers suggested that political and policy duties, including the continued implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, were likely to remain the domain of the No. 2 official in the department, acting Deputy Secretary of Education Eugene W. Hickok, who has also been serving as undersecretary.
Mr. Paige suggested that Mr. McPherson was being tapped for his financial know- how. The Agriculture Department official would be a “valuable asset in our continued efforts to be responsible stewards” of federal tax dollars, the secretary said in a statement.
A spokesman for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said it was too early to comment on the confirmation process for Mr. McPherson.
Watching the Books
The White House and the Education Department offered no comment on whether Mr. Hickok—one of the department’s most visible advocates for the No Child Left Behind law—would be nominated for Senate confirmation as deputy secretary.
The Department of Education oversees an annual discretionary budget of roughly $53 billion.
Mr. McPherson’s name emerged about four months after the resignation of Deputy Secretary of Education William D. Hansen, who cited a desire to spend more time with his family. Observers credited Mr. Hansen with revamping financial oversight of the 4,800-employee department. Under his stewardship, the agency received its first “clean” audit report on its finances in six years. (June 6, 2003, and June 11, 2003.)
Bruce Hunter, a lobbyist for the American Association of School Administrators, in Arlington, Va., predicted that Mr. McPherson would absorb the budget-watchdog duties previously handled by Mr. Hansen.
“If they’re asking him to go out and make education speeches, he might be able to do that,” Mr. Hunter said of Mr. McPherson, “but he wouldn’t have a whole lot of credibility.”
Ms. Radice, 55, has served as the executive director of two New York City foundations: Friends of Dresden, devoted to the revival of the German city heavily bombed during World War II; and the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, a human-rights organization. She has also been the acting chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts.