If it weren't for the fact that everyone's attention is focused on him, more folks would notice that Spellings has been up to some very Gonzales-like things over at the Department of Education. (You can watch a video of the testimony here.)
In response to the growing litany of reports and investigations surrounding misdeeds in the multi-billion-dollar student lending industry, Spellings has, somewhat unbelievably, claimed that she lacked the authority to take on the lenders and universities who were manipulating the system for financial gain.
In response to the scandal surrounding an early literacy program called Reading First, which independent reports have found full of conflicts of interest and unwise if not illegal implementation, Spellings argues that she wasn't Secretary then and that everyone involved - former Secretary Rod Paige, former Assistant Secretary Gene Hickock, and others - has left.
True, Spellings wasn't Secretary back then when Reading First was headed off the rails. But it's not like she wasn't there. Before becoming the EdSec, Spellings was head of the Domestic Policy Council, which oversees education from the White House.
And yet, Spellings claims clean hands.
"It would have been impossible for me to have been intimately involved with oversight of all those programs," she said last week in Los Angeles about her responsibilities at the DPC. It's a response that comes awfully close to Gonzales infuriating claims to have not been involved in the Attorney General firings, and to not remember key events.
The Gonzales-Spellings similarities don't end there.
Like Gonzales, Spellings is continually vexed by a former employee who contradicts her account of events. For Gonzales, it's Kyle Sampson. For Spellings, it's Chris Doherty, the former head of the Reading First program, who was summarily dismissed when things started to heat up.
Doherty claims that the White House was intimately involved in every step of the implementation of the program, which allegedly violated federal statutes by excluding certain reading programs from being used. ("Four Officials Profited From Publishers, Report Finds," The Washington Post)
But none of this has led to the type of bipartisan piling-on that Gonzales has endured, nor the calls for her resignation...
For her part, Spellings has done her best to address the allegations against her management of these programs, and to divert attention when she can't. She announced the departure of one top student lending official on Tuesday, just before she was scheduled to testify. ("Federal Student Loan Official Is Resigning", The New York Times) She encouraged the House passage of a student lending "sunshine" law the day before she was to appear, which took much of the steam out of the Thursday proceedings. ("House Passes Ban on Gifts From Student Lenders", The New York Times)
This editorial from the New York Times underscores the point:
“It’s not our fault.” That’s what Education Secretary Margaret Spellings seemed to say while testifying before Congress last week about her department’s failure to halt the payoffs, kickbacks and general looting of the public treasury by a lending company that collected nearly $300 million in undeserved subsidies. But that doesn’t track with the federal Higher Education Act, which clearly authorizes the secretary to disqualify from federal programs lenders who employ payoffs, kickbacks and unethical practices like those that have been found to be commonplace in the college lending business.