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House Committee Seeks Probe of N.I.E. Bidding

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Washington--A Congressional subcommittee, which has concluded that the National Institute of Education committed "several apparent violations" of federal regulations in handling recent bidding for a major grant, has asked for a major probe of the nie's management of past bidding.

In a letter to Charles A. Bowsher, the comptroller general of the General Accounting Office, the chairman of the Congressional panel said the nie acted illegally when it awarded Harvard University a contract to establish a center to study educational technology.

A spokesman for the gao, the investigative arm of the Congress, said a decision about whether to conduct such an inquiry will be made after it completes another probe related to the circumstances surrounding the Harvard grant. That investigation will be completed by the end of March, the spokesman said.

The nie's decision to notify Harvard that its bid exceeded the amount of money the agency could spend on the center was "a blatant violation" of Education Department regulations, said Representative Ted Weiss, Democrat of New York and chairman of the House Intergovernmental Relations and Human Resources Subcommittee.

Mr. Weiss also said the nie violated federal regulations when it selected Harvard over the Bank Street College of New York despite the fact that Bank Street's proposal was less expensive and received a higher rating from a committee of experts. Harvard bid $7.6 million for the project, while Bank Street bid $4.4 million.

The investigation sought by Representative Weiss would probe all of the grant decisions made by the nie since it was established in 1972. At the request of Bank Street officials, the gao already is investigating the Harvard grant decision. (See Education Week, Feb. 1, 1984.)

Mr. Weiss asked the gao to determine how often the nie has conducted bidding for contracts, revealed financial data to institutions competing for contracts, awarded contracts to institutions with high bids, and employed personnel who have bid on nie contracts.

Representative Weiss also asked the gao to investigate the extent to which the director of the nie has acted as the contracting officer in past decisions. Central to Bank Street's protest is the decision by the current director, Manuel J. Justiz, to make the final decision on the bids.

The contracting officer usually makes the final decision based on the findings of the committee of experts, which is assembled by the director, nie officials say. The contracting officer in the bidding for the technology center, Victor Westbrook, has stated that he would have ruled in favor of Bank Street.

Agency Regulations

The Harvard grant marked the first time the nie has funded a research laboratory or center based on competitive bidding. Last fall's award was announced at a time that the Congress was considering funding cuts for the agency and the Administration was studying changes in the "missions" of the centers.

Education Department regulations forbid giving bidders any infor-mation about other bidders or any information that "could give one offer a competitive advantage over another."

The regulations further state that "price or best-buy analysis should ... become the controlling factor" in selecting two bids of similar technical merits. Representative Weiss asserted that even if "the distinguishable excellence of one bidder over the other was unclear," the nie therefore should still have selected Bank Street.

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