Audit: DOE Violated Rules Regarding Reading Initiative Grants
WASHINGTON – According to a report recently released regarding President Bush’s Reading First grant application process, Department of Education (DOE) officials improperly selected members of review panels that awarded large grants to states. The report also alleges the department ignored ethical standards so it could award grants to favorites and control the curriculum used by districts.
The inspector general’s report says the DOE often failed to identify when there were conflicts of interest, thus allowing contracts to be awarded to favored textbook publishers. Abuses included “stacking the panel” and encouraging staff to let one publisher know that it was not favored by the department. The audit also found that the DOE would not let states review the comments made by experts who reviewed their applications. States were also forced to meet requirements not mandated by law. Additionally, the department attempted to downplay parts of the law it didn’t like.
The abuses happened during 2002 and 2003 and involved funds totaling more than $4.8 billion used nationwide to pay for school books and curriculum.
In response to the report, DOE Secretary Margaret Spellings said in a statement released Sept. 22, “I am deeply committed to the highest levels of integrity and ethics for the Department of Education and all its programs. Some of the actions taken by Department officials and described in the Inspector General’s report reflect individual mistakes. Although these events occurred before I became Secretary of Education, I am concerned about these actions and committed to addressing and resolving them. I am therefore moving swiftly to enact all of the Inspector General’s recommendations.”
Officials will review the grant applications to determine if they met DOE requirements. That review should be completed by the end of the year.
Publishers of reading programs have accused the panels of impropriety, bias and mismanagement. These allegations have prompted several audits.
Despite the concerns regarding the grant application process, the Reading First initiative is considered by many state officials to be very effective in improving reading test scores.
The complete inspector general’s report can be reviewed at http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oig/whatsnew.html.
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