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Agency Downs University Appeal on Clearinghouse

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WASHINGTON--The General Accounting Office has rejected a protest by New Mexico State University of the Education Department's award of a contract to operate its information clearinghouse on rural education and small schools.

And, in a related move, a federal district court last week lifted an injunction on the contract.

The actions pave the way for the department to move forward with the contract, which was awarded in January to the Appalachia Educational Laboratory Inc.

"I would assume this would bring closure to the case,'' said Barry F. Puschauver, general attorney for the department.

In its protest, filed in March, the university claimed that the panel selected to evaluate the proposals was unqualified in many of the areas within the clearinghouse's purview. (See Education Week, March 30, 1988.)

As a result, charged the university, which had operated the clearinghouse for 21 years, the panel was unable to determine that the laboratory's bid--which was $20,000 less than New Mexico State's--was insufficient to perform all its required duties.

But the GAO declined to consider that charge. "The composition of technical-evaluation teams,'' the eight-page decision states, "is within the contracting agency's discretion, and, as such, does not give rise to review by our office absent a showing of possible bad faith, fraud, conflict of interest, or actual bias on the part of evaluators.''

"None of these factors is shown or even alleged here,'' notes the decision, which was written by James F. Hinchman, the agency's general counsel.

In addition, wrote Mr. Hinchman, the technical evaluation of the two proposals was "fair and reasonable and consistent with the evaluation criteria.''

Department officials hailed the decision. "It ratified our procurement decisionmaking process,'' Mr. Puschauver said. "That's what our position was.''

Officials of New Mexico State could not be reached for comment.

The GAO is expected to rule soon on a separate protest, filed by the National Council of Teachers of English, which challenges the award of a contract to operate the federal information clearinghouse on reading and communication skills.--RR

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