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MONDAY, APRIL 18, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Cabinet member tells how things go wrong

Federal Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings used plain language when she commented Friday on misdeeds that took place under her predecessor.

Rod Paige had her job when the department hired conservative commentator Armstrong Williams to promote President Bush's agenda. An internal report concluded that the hiring showed poor judgment and wasted money.

The department probably did not get what it wanted from the $240,000 paid to Mr. Williams, the report said. He is black, and he was supposed to engage in "minority outreach" and promote Mr. Bush's "No Child Left Behind" law.

Responding in writing to the findings, Ms. Spellings admitted that "what happened here was wrong."

She went on to say:

"My personal observation is the office of the secretary carries weight. 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 that request ... As a result, it is the secretary who must be careful about and is ultimately responsible for the signals that his/her office sends."

It's a familiar scenario in many offices: Thinking the boss wants something, overzealous employees set out to achieve it. But it may not be what the boss wants at all.

In the Williams case, the government had no business buying the influence of a supposedly impartial journalist, and he was out of line to accept money. We hope that Ms. Spellings' colleagues and subordinates understand that this sort of behavior is not what she wants.

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