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Eye Opener: Duncan Is Not Lying

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Good Friday and a blessed Passover!

The Eye loves any opportunity to better explain the Ways of Washington and a new Brookings Institution report does just that: Brookings senior fellow Russ Whitehurst defends Education Secretary Arne Duncan against two blistering op-eds published this week by the Denver Post and Wall Street Journal.

Both claim that Duncan sat on the results of a study concluding that low-income Washington, D.C. students participating in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (or "school voucher program") have significantly higher reading achievement after three years than students who do not participate in the program.

While that's great news to supporters of the voucher program, the omnibus appropriations act signed last month by President Obama sunsets the program. Columnists, bloggers and other critics allege Duncan sat on the report's findings until last Friday in order to let Congress to first approve its demise.

But that's not true according to Whitehurst, who until last November headed the Institute of Education Science, which published the report supportive of the voucher program.

"Given the established procedures of IES it is extremely unlikely that Secretary Duncan would have known the results of the study until recently," he writes.

"The discussion of preliminary results from the study in November 2008 would have been with technical advisers to the contractor who was carrying out the study. No one in the Department of Education other than a few staff within IES would have been included in that meeting and the results would not have been shared."

That's as it should be, Whitehurst writes, because "By law, IES reports are not subject to the approval of the secretary or any other office of the Department."

"People who don’t know IES and how it operates imagine it’s part of the office of the secretary, so thus anything it does would be privy to the secretary. But that’s not the case," Whitehurst told The Eye in an interview Thursday afternoon. Critics should direct their anger and frustration at Congress, Whitehurst said, because lawmakers knew the forthcoming IES report would likely present data supporting the voucher program. Instead, Congress orchestrated a successful "backdoor attempt" to kill the program by including it in the omnibus bill.

For his part, Duncan made an onstage appearance last night at the Neko Case concert at D.C.'s 9:30 Club, asking the young crowd to consider teaching careers.

Read Whitehurst's full essay and the thoughts of the Journal's editorial board and Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi then leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Get YOUR academic article, speech, event or other noteworthy item about the federal bureaucracy mentioned in the daily Eye Opener by sending it to federaleye@washingtonpost.com.

Now... to the news!

Stimulus Aid Being Doled Out, Slowly: "Slowly but surely, the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- better known as the economic stimulus package -- is beginning to percolate nationwide, six weeks after President Obama signed the legislation," reports The Post's Alec MacGillis. "In most cases, though, the money is working its way into the system far more gradually as officials strive to meet not only existing guidelines for programs receiving aid but also reporting requirements that have been added to make sure that stimulus funding is spent as intended and to account for the jobs it creates."

French Fries to Fuel Military?: "The nation doesn't just run on Dunkin anymore. Sizzling grease from fast food may soon fuel the nation's military vehicles," reports Alicia Tarancon of OhMyGov.com. "According to the American Forces Press Services, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has plans for using alternative fuels, like biodiesel, to run aircrafts, ships and ground vehicles."

CIA Has Quit Operating Secret Jails: "The CIA no longer operates any secret overseas prisons, Director Leon Panetta said yesterday, and has not detained anyone since he became chief in February," reports The Post's Karen DeYoung. "Panetta's statement, contained in a message to the CIA workforce, also said the agency will no longer use contractors to conduct interrogations or to provide security for remaining detention sites." From the Wall Street Journal: "The letter and an accompanying memo to CIA employees were the fullest explanation to date of how the agency is carrying out President Barack Obama's executive order of Jan. 22 ending the CIA's "black site" program that detained terror suspects at secret locations overseas." Scott Shane of the New York Times notes that Panetta wrote that "agency officers who worked in the program “should not be investigated, let alone punished” because the Justice Department under President George W. Bush had declared their actions legal."

Obama Buying Fuel-Efficient Fleet for Uncle Sam: "By June 1, the government plans to spend $285 million in stimulus funds to buy fuel-efficient vehicles from General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. The purchase is slated to include 2,500 hybrid sedans, the largest one-time purchase of hybrid vehicles to date for the federal fleet," reports The Post's Kendra Marr.

DOD to Bush Holdovers: Sign Ethics Pledge, or Leave: "In an April 7 e-mail, Robert Rangel, special assistant to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, gave all Bush holdovers until the close of business on Friday to sign the agreement, which puts restrictions on post-government employment," reports Gov Exec's Robert Brodsky. "Politicos who refuse to comply will be required to leave their position by the end of April."

Obama Asks Agencies to Prove 100 Days Accomplishments: "To help them frame their response to the media attention, the White House has asked cabinet department offices to demonstrate how they are fulfilling the promise of change. One of our inside sources provided OhMyGov! with the guidance from the White House to highlight the administrations accomplishments." Read the guidance here.

U.S. Food Safety No Longer Improving: A "report, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, demonstrates that the nation’s food safety system, created when most foods were grown, prepared and consumed locally, needs a thorough overhaul to regulate an increasingly global food industry," reports Gardiner Harris of the New York Times. Lyndsey Layton of The Post writes that "Several factors are fueling the trend, including the intricacy of the U.S. food chain, the changing nature of the contaminating bacteria and the rise in imported food, Tauxe said. Bacteria that used to be associated mainly with meats and poultry have recently shown up in fresh produce, posing new risks, he said. Examples include E. coli 0157 in spinach and salmonella in peanuts and pistachios." The Wall Street Journal's Jane Zhang and Mike Esterl report that "The CDC's annual report on foodborne illness uses data from 10 states, along with the CDC, U.S. Department of Agriculture and FDA."

Obama Pledges New Data System for Veterans: "Research has shown that the handoff of medical information -- between individuals and hospital systems -- can be dangerous. Incomplete, incomprehensible or misunderstood data can contribute to medical error or substandard care," reports The Post's David Brown. "While the Defense Department's hospitals and the Veterans Affairs medical system have electronic records, they are not seamlessly connected -- a problem Obama said he is determined to solve." Bob Brewin -- NextGov's in-house expert on these sorts of issues -- notes that "Defense cares for 9.2 million patients in both its own 63 hospitals and 826 clinics and in partnership with civilian doctors through its TRICARE insurance system. VA treats 55 million veterans a year at its more than 1,400 hospitals and clinics."

Married Couples at State Dept.: Al Kamen writes today that "There's a new ambassadorial husband-and-wife team in the works at the State Department. Melanne Verveer was recently confirmed as ambassador at large for global women's issues. Now it appears her husband, highly regarded telecommunications lawyer Philip Verveer, is to be nominated to the top telecommunications post there, which also carries ambassadorial rank."

OMB Asks Agencies to Share Cost of Grants.gov Upgrades: "Last month, the Health and Human Services Department began work to shore up the system, which OMB says is in danger of collapse as unprecedented numbers of users go to the site to explore grants opportunities under the stimulus package," reports Elise Castelli of the Federal Times. Partially because of this request, the departments of Defense, Education, Homeland Security and Justice will use other internal systems, at least temporarily, reports Federal News Radio's Jason Miller.

IG: Interior's Networks Weren't Secure in 2008: Alice Lipowitz of Federal Computer Week scoops: "The Interior Department apparently experienced a significant cybersecurity leak in January 2008 that transmitted departmental information to countries hostile to the United States, according to a previously unreleased report by the department’s inspector general, Earl Devaney. The report was released to the public April 1 in a filing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The filing is related to a lawsuit filed by American Indians against the department. Federal Computer Week obtained a copy of the report, which was completed in May 2008."

Intel Community Defends P-F-P Expansion: From Gov Exec's Alyssa Rosenberg: "We've tried to make the case to the Hill and also to OMB that with particular respect to the intelligence community...we are fundamentally different than the workforce covered by the National Security Personnel System [now suspended pending a review]," said Ronald Sanders, chief human capital officer at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, during a Thursday conference call with reporters.

Today's Big Event: Commerce Secretary Gary Locke met with the Chinese ambassador earlier this week and today he meets with Ichiro Fujisaki, Japan's U.S. ambassador.

By Ed O'Keefe  | April 10, 2009; 7:28 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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