WHILE STRUGGLING with the failures of one DOE (the Department of Energy), the administration is still trying to create another - the proposed Department of Education, which is finally stumbling toward a decisive House vote. Yes, the two DOES are different. The energy restructuring was meant to merge a swarm of agencies and bolster federal policy-making powers. Although it hasn't worked out neatly, it was not a bad idea. In contrast, the point of the pending DOE is to detach education from health and welfare and elevate it to Cabinet rank -- ostensibly without enlarging the federal budget or role in that field. This is such a wretched idea that House members who truly value education should vote firmly no.
Predictably, the champions of a new DOE are trying to describe it as as bureaucratic slimming-down. Consider the ful-page advertisemtnt supporting the plan that appeared in this newspaper yesterday. The ad featured a ludicrously tangled maze, described as "part of a recent HEW organization chart," and clearly implied that an education department is the only way out.
But the chart does not outline the relationship between education and the rest of HEW -- the ties that a DOE would unbind. Instead, the chart shows how the swarm of federal education offices and projects relate to the rest of the world -- public education agencies, private institutions, interest groups and even students (labeled "individuals"). Of course some of the skeins are snarled. But creating a DOE would not untangle them; it would just put a more prestigious label on the maze.
The claims of economy and efficiency are also off the mark. The administration asserts, for instance, that $15 million to $19 million could be saved at once by pruning some 450 employees from a new DOE -- and that tighter administration could save up to $100 million in the longer run. But if those opportunities are so obvious, why is Cabinet status needed to accomplish them? If inertia or resistance in HEW is the obstacle, that should be attacked head-on.
All in all, it's hard to avoid concluding that economy and better management are really the paramount aims. Instead, the basic point seems to be, strangely enough, to get the federal educational complex out of HEW and give it more status, visibility and autonomy. That would certainly please the National Education Association and the other interest groups that have been lobbying so intensely for this plan. It would probably please some subcommittee chairmen who have close ties to various programs. And it would give Congress more opportunities for mischief of the sort that has already produced some anti-civil-rights amendments to the DOE bill in the House. And that -- the likelihood of more political manevering and meddling with federal educational policies -- is the best reason to vote against this bill.