Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) has said he plans to challenge the nomination of William J. Bennett as secretary of Education because of his record of hiring only white males for the top jobs at the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Simon, who said he hopes to serve on the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, which will screen Bennett's nomination, said: "Our secretary of education must be sensitive to the needs of minorities."

The agency has "an absolutely sex-blind, race-blind hiring and firing policy," Assistant Chairman John Agresto told The Chicago Tribune.

"We will, at every time we turn around, cast as wide a net as possible and welcome all women and minorities to apply. But we do not, have not and will not hire, fire or promote on the basis of race or sex," he said.

As head of the endowment, Bennett refused to file an annual report with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission detailing the progress the agency had made toward meeting goals for hiring women and minorities. At the time, Bennett told a House subcommittee: "We have pursued a policy of sex-, religion- and colorblindness not only because such a policy is intrinsically just and legally appropriate, but because its opposite policy -- color-consciousness, goals, quotas, affirmative discrimination . . . is fraught with practical as well as moral difficulties."