WASHINGTON — The University of California, Berkeley, will replace Ohio State University as home of the country's national research center for vocational education, federal officials announced Monday.
Bonnie Guiton, the Education Department's assistant secretary for vocational and adult education, said the department decided to award a five-year, $30-million grant to the California school after reviewing recommendations by a five-member, non-government panel.
Department officials said the grant is tentatively effective Jan. 16.
"The decision is that the grant will go to the University of California at Berkeley," Guiton said. "This is certainly not an indictment of Ohio State. They've done a fine job."
The University of California has proposed to operate the center with the help of subcontractors that include the University of Minnesota, the University of Illinois, Teachers College of Columbia University, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and the RAND Corp.
The center conducts research and provides leadership training in the field of vocational and technical education. It was created at Ohio State University 22 years ago, and in 1978 was designated a national center by Congress. Ohio State later won two contract competitions to operate the center.
Last month, Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, succeeded in attaching an amendment to an education spending bill before the Senate that would have delayed awarding of the grant until the U.S. General Accounting Office completed an investigation of the selection process. However, the provision was later stripped by a House-Senate conference committee.
In offering the amendment, Metzenbaum said education officials had been unable to give good reason for "arbitrarily weighting the results against OSU" and that there is no evidence the competing universities offered adequate financial support or technical expertise for the center.
GAO officials briefed Education Department officials earlier Monday on their preliminary findings.
"My concern was about the integrity of the process," Guiton said. "The GAO said they saw nothing arbitrary or capricious about the process."
However, Metzenbaum called the department's decision "an outrage" and vowed to work on a legislative solution.
"It wastes taxpayers' money and bends the law," Metzenbaum said in a statement. "OSU was the most qualified and was willing to contribute $1 million more to the vocational center than its competitors. The GAO called the department's decision seriously flawed, and we are not prepared to accept this decision as final."
Ray Ryan, executive director of the center at Ohio State, said the federal grant accounts for 75% of the center's funding, but that he plans to continue operating the facility even if the grant is lost. He said he does not know how many of the center's 200 jobs would be lost, but that it would have a "significant impact."
He also said it would have an effect nationally.
"It will take a substantial amount of time to develop the type of national center we have here," Ryan said.