- The Washington Times - Friday, April 15, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Senior Education Department officials showed poor judgment in hiring conservative commentator Armstrong Williams to promote agency programs, but there was no evidence of legal or ethical violations, a department investigation found.

?We did find that department officials made some poor management decisions and exercised poor judgment and oversight,? the department’s inspector general said in a report released yesterday.

?As a result, the department paid for work that most likely did not reach its intended audience and paid for deliverables that were never received.?

The department paid $240,000 to Mr. Williams, a commentator with newspaper, television and radio audiences, to promote President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law. The deal was part of a $1.3 million contract the department had with Ketchum, a public relations firm.

Mr. Williams, who is black, was hired to conduct ?minority outreach? about Mr. Bush’s law by producing ads with then-Education Secretary Rod Paige. Records show Mr. Williams was also hired to provide media time to Mr. Paige and to persuade other blacks in the media to talk about the law.

The report said the ads that were produced appeared to be of poor quality and the department had no assurance they actually aired. It recommended that the department take steps to recover money for work that was paid for but never delivered and to better monitor its outside contracts.

Responding to the report, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings referred to the influence of department leaders.

?When the secretary, his/her chief of staff and other senior officers urge, hint, suggest or recommend anything, it can start a chain reaction within the building to carry out the request, such as what occurred beginning in March 2003,? she said. ?As a result, it is the secretary who must be careful about and is ultimately responsible for the signals that his/her office sends.?

Both Mr. Paige and Mrs. Spellings were appointed by Mr. Bush.

Putting a pundit on the payroll has proven embarrassing for the Bush administration, which has also been criticized for distributing ?news? videos that don’t make clear they were produced by the government.

Mr. Bush has said the hiring of Mr. Williams was wrong, and that videos made for TV broadcast should disclose their source to avoid being ?deceptive to the American people.?

Mr. Paige, in his final days as secretary, defended the contract as legal but apologized for ?perceptions and allegations of ethical lapses.?

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