The Senate has delayed confirming Assistant Education Secretary Anne Graham to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, pending a General Accounting Office investigation into anonymous allegations that she used her government car on personal business and hired friends as Education Department consultants.
Richard L. Fogel, director of GAO's Human Resources Division, told The Washington Post that his office would look into the allegations after receiving an official request from Reps. Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.) and Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.)
"We've got the letter and we are going to start," Fogel said. "We want to try to get it done as quickly as we can."
Graham called the allegations "absurd and unfounded" and said she would be "as cooperative as possible" with the GAO probe.
Graham was nominated by President Reagan and confirmed Nov. 14 by the Senate Commerce Committee for the open seat on the CPSC. A vote by the full Senate, usually a pro forma matter after the committee vote, was delayed after one Senate Democrat -- later identified as Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.) -- objected to any action until the GAO probe was completed.
The House members' request for the investigation prompted three senators on the Labor and Human Resources Committee -- Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), Robert T. Stafford (R-Vt.) and Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.) -- to ask the GAO not to open the probe.
Fogel, at GAO, said he had received the senators' letter but would conduct the investigation anyway. The senators planned to meet with the GAO on Monday, several sources said.
Gore's request is considered highly unusual, since the Senate rarely acts in concert with the House over a nomination. Under Senate rules, any senator is allowed to delay a final vote on a nomination on the basis of institutional courtesy.
Graham is considered politically well-connected with influential friends in conservative circles. She worked for more than a decade as an aide to White House adviser Lyn Nofziger, in the communications office of the Republican National Committee, in the California branch of President Richard M. Nixon's 1972 reelection campaign, and for the Reagan campaign. She also held various posts in the Nixon and Ford administrations before joining the Education Department in 1981.
The White House was said to be following the developments, but has not applied pressure to bring the nomination to a final vote.
Some of Graham's supporters suggested that the allegations -- mostly received through anonymous letters and telephone calls to Capitol Hill -- might be a politically motivated effort. Democrats, they said, may want to embarrass the White House on another of its nominations in a year that has seen several controversial nominees rejected or forced to withdraw.
On the other hand, a few vocal members of the New Right were upset at Graham's role earlier this year in the ouster of two Education Department advisers -- Eileen Gardner and Lawrence Uzzell -- whose critical views of federal aid to the handicapped had become an embarrassment to Secretary William J. Bennett. Graham was known inside department circles to have suggested the two aides resign immediately, and later one of her own aides left the department after refusing to support the decision to oust Gardner and Uzzell.
Graham was questioned vaguely about some of the allegations when she appeared earlier this month before Weiss' intergovernmental relations subcommittee. Weiss asked her to present a detailed schedule of her workweek and daily calendar from the previous week, and he asked her for a listing of all consultants she has hired since running the legislation and public affairs office.
A department spokesman said later that Graham has hired 24 consultants over more than four years, eight of whom were waiting to be cleared for civil service jobs and two of whom were congressional fellows whose fellowships had expired before they completed their projects. This spokesman said that number did not seem unusually high compared to other Cabinet departments.
The delay in Graham's confirmation has put on hold a series of key reorganizations and personnel shifts at the Education Department.