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House Panel Concludes Probe of N.J. Spending

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Washington--A House education subcommittee completed an extensive investigation last week of the alleged mismanagement of millions of dollars in federal funds by New Jersey school officials during the 1970's.

The hearings, initiated by Representative Marge Roukema, Republican of New Jersey, have focused on alleged abuses in state administration of federal Title III and Title IV-C monies--programs that were folded into the block-grants package in 1981.

The House investigation was spurred by a series of articles that appeared in The Newark Star-Ledger last January. Those articles claimed that the state department of education, while under the direction of former Commissioner of Education Fred Burke, may have diverted up to $35 million intended for the federal projects into state projects.

The New Jersey legislature, the state attorney general, and a federal attorney are also investigating the allegations.

In testimony before the House panel in Trenton, N.J., last month, Mr. Burke contended that the allegations made in the Star-Ledger series were "not supported by fact."

Last week's hearing, before the Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education, focused on the federal government's role in ensuring fiscal accountability in the programs.

According to D'Alan E. Huff, who oversaw the Title III and Title IV-C programs in the former U.S. Office of Education, federal education officials were aware of "irregularities" in the state's administration of the programs as early as 1977.

Mr. Huff, who is now the program-operations director of Indian education in the U.S. Education Department, said employees in the New Jersey education department told him of alleged "graft and mismanagement" in the program while he and several other federal officials were visiting the state on official business that year.

"A cursory look" at state records indicated "that information we should have had was not as up to date as it should have been," he told the subcommittee. Mr. Huff said he discussed the problem with the people leveling the charges as well as with Mr. Burke.

"I suggested to [Mr. Burke] that he take a look at the use of these funds." Mr. Huff said. "He and his people had only been in office a year or so at that time. I remember telling him that if this was allowed to go on for one or two more years, it would become his problem. My observation was that he had a lot of problems to deal with--that this just slipped by."

Mr. Huff said Mr. Burke assured him that the department would look into the matter.

The result, he said, was a "grossly inadequate" internal investigation conducted by Mr. Burke's executive assistant.

Representative Roukema said the subcommittee's staff will prepare a report on the hearings for the state and federal law-enforcement officials conducting investigations into the issue.--tm

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