WASHINGTON — President Reagan, citing little congressional support, will not recommend closing down the Education Department, a major goal when he took office in 1981, it was revealed today.
"I have no intention of recommending the abolition of the department to the Congress at this time," Reagan said in a letter to Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee.
Reagan said: "As you know, I have previously recommended the abolition of the Department of Education.
"This was because I believed that federal educational programs could be administered effectively without a Cabinet-level agency. While I still feel that this is the best approach, that proposal has received very little support in the Congress."
Reagan's letter, released today by Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (R-Conn.), was sent to answer questions about the Administration's position on the department during hearings Monday on the nomination of William J. Bennett to become the new secretary.
On the basis of the letter, Weicker--who expressed unease during the hearing on the future of the Education Department--said he no longer has any concerns that the Administration may have plans to eliminate the department.
"I am satisfied that the Administration will not seek to shut down the Department of Education," Weicker said. "Dr. Bennett can now concern himself with the management and improvement of the department, not its eradication."
Reagan, calling Bennett a "proven, capable administrator with an unquestioned commitment to excellence in education," said the secretary-designate "will be able to present me with thoughtful, constructive views on ways to improve the federal role in education."
Hatch said he expects his committee to approve Bennett's nomination by Friday, with the full Senate confirming him within a few weeks.
Bennett, 41, has been executive director of the National Endowment for the Humanities since 1981, and would succeed Terrel H. Bell as secretary. Bell retired Dec. 31 to return to private life.
Reagan vowed during his 1980 presidential campaign to abolish the department, but encountered stiff resistance in Congress. He said in a recent interview that he had not abandoned plans to eliminate the department, with some functions being turned over to other agencies.