President Carter has decided against including veterans' educational programs in his proposed new Department of Education, according to the chairman of the House Veterans' Affair Committee.
Rep. Ray Roberts (D-Tex.), in a recent letter to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said President Carter had personally told him at a Jan. 27 meeting that the $2.6 billion GI Bill education program - one of the biggest education programs in the federal government - won't be shifted out of the Veterans' Administration.
The VFW and the American Legion both strongly oppose shifting the GI Bill from the VA to the proposed Department of Education and are prepared to go all-out to defeat any such proposal. They believe the VA understands veterans' problems better than any other agency would. About 1.4 million people are receiving veterans' educational benefits.
Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Joseph A. Califano Jr. recently told a congressional committee that VA educational programs are among various "candidates" for possible inclusion in the new department.
After reading reports of Califano's statement, Roberts wrote the VFW that "I just recently had conversations with President Carter where he indicated an opposite course."
In another letter, this one to Califano, Roberts and Califano's statement "comes as a great shock to me since I discussed this matter personally with the President when I met with him on Jan. 27."
An aide said that in the Jan. 27 conversation, Roberts told Carter of his opposition to including GI Bill benefits in the new Education Department and "Mr. Carter indicated to Mr. Roberts that he agreed that wasn't a good thing to do."
Moreover, Roberts said in his letter to Califano, staff personnel of the president's reorganization team and of the Office of Management and Budget, which is working on reorganization, had told Roberts' aides on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee that Carter had decided "that education and training programs administered by the Veterans' Administration will not be included in the proposed new Department of Education."
Officials at the White House and OMB said no formal decision on the fate of the veterans' educational programs has been announced. Gut an OMB source said, "Inclusion of the GI Bill programs (in the new department) is not under serious consideration."
Other sources said that inclusion of the GI Bill in the Department of Education would so incense the powerful veterans' lobby that it would endanger congressional passage of the whole reorganization plan for education. Therefore, it was decided to leave the GI Bill in the VA.
Some members of the Congress privately believe that Califano is publicly raising the possibility of GI Bill inclusion in the new department in order to covertly stir up veterans' opposition that could block the creating of the new department - because the new department would take away from Califano's department about $10.4 billion in education programs.
Califano has repeatedly denied this. However, he has brought up the idea of including veterans' program in the new department on several occasions in the past few weeks - most recently last Tuesday at the White House briefing on new education programs.