Federal Federal File

Some Conditions May Apply

By Sean Cavanagh — August 08, 2006 1 min read
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Four years ago, Congress approved a bill creating the Institute of Education Sciences, a retooling of the Department of Education’s research operations that lawmakers hoped would produce independent work, free of political influence.

But when President Bush signed the measure into law on Nov. 5, 2002, he issued a “signing statement” that appeared to place caveats on the law. It was one of many such statements the president has issued in signing bills, a practice that is now under attack from some lawmakers and legal scholars.

An American Bar Association task force issued a July 24 report rebuking the president for issuing signing statements that seek to “disregard or decline to enforce” approved legislation—in violation, the ABA argues, of the constitutional separation of powers between Congress and the executive branch.

Presidents have typically used signing statements to express their authority to interpret legislation to fit their own legal and constitutional preferences, often over the objections of lawmakers, the ABA report said. The ABA said Mr. Bush has issued signing statements that challenge about 800 legislative provisions—more than all other U.S. presidents combined.

Among the statements cited by the ABA is the one Mr. Bush issued with the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002, which created the IES. That law, the ABA noted, says that the IES director may publish research “without the approval” of the U.S. secretary of education.

But Mr. Bush’s signing statement appears to flatly contradict that language, saying the IES director will be subject to “the supervision and direction” of the secretary. The statement also appears to assert the president’s authority over the IES director’s ability to set priorities for research.

Mr. Bush “has been particularly adamant about preventing any of his subordinates from reporting directly to Congress,” the ABA report said.

In June, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said Mr. Bush’s signing statements were “really not all that out of line with previous administrations.”

IES Director Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst said that neither Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings nor her predecessor, Rod Paige, had sought to control his agency’s research. Both have followed “the principle that the [IES] must be, and must be perceived to be, free of political interference and policy advocacy,” Mr. Whitehurst said in an e-mail.

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A version of this article appeared in the August 09, 2006 edition of Education Week

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