Washington Post: To get Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., to remove a "hold" on her confirmation vote, Margaret Spellings, the newly appointed education secretary, had to promise to investigate her new department's contracts with public relations firms. We are glad that Lautenberg pushed Spellings to acknowledge that there might be something amiss in the department's recent decision to pay Armstrong Williams, a television pundit, to promote the president's education policy. But the silence from the Education Department's current leadership remains disturbing.
Williams has apologized for his "bad judgment" in taking money to promote a government policy (although he hasn't given the money back). Ketchum Inc., the public relations firm that set up the deal, has also conceded that "this work did not comply with the guidelines of our agency and our industry," and it called the arrangement a "lapse of judgment."
Still in denial
But Roderick Paige, the outgoing education secretary, has denied that Williams was paid to promote policy, although Williams has confirmed that his contract called for precisely that. Paige has also called the deal with Williams a standard "outreach effort" to minority groups. Clearly, Spellings has her work cut out for her, for if it was standard practice to pay Armstrong Williams, then others must have been paid, too. This week the House Democratic leadership asked the Social Security Administration to clarify its relationships with the media and with public relations firms as well.
These are critical years for the president's education policy. The No Child Left Behind Act still needs fine-tuning. Spellings, with her background in policymaking, is certainly qualified to grapple with the issues. But the Education Department itself is in desperate need of better direction -- starting with its public relations policy.