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Award for ERIC Center on Reading Backed

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WASHINGTON--For the second time in a month, the General Accounting Office has rejected a challenge to the Education Department's award of a contract to operate a federal information clearinghouse.

The GAO dismissed a protest from the National Council of Teachers of English, which last January lost its bid to continue running the clearinghouse on reading and communication skills. The Congressional agency ruled that the department acted properly in awarding the contract to Indiana University.

In June, the GAO rejected a similar protest by New Mexico State University, which had lost its bid to continue operating the Educational Resources Information Center clearinghouse on rural education and small schools. (See Education Week, June 15, 1988.)

In its challenge, the NCTE charged that department officials were "predisposed'' against awarding the contract to the organization, which has opposed them on educational issues in the past.

The group accused the department of stacking the peer-review panel that evaluated the bids with unqualified reviewers; using possibly improper procedures in seating members of the panel; and posing discriminatory questions to the bidders.

But the GAO, in a seven-page decision, rejected the claims. "The evidence presented by the NCTE falls short of showing either bias or conflict of interest,'' the decision states. "We will not attribute unfair or prejudicial motives to procurement officials on the basis of mere inference or supposition.''

Noting that the selection of technical-evaluation teams is "within the contracting agency's sound discretion,'' the GAO refused to consider the NCTE's challenge to the composition of the peer-review panel.

In addition, the agency determined that the department had acted properly in seating panel members and in evaluating the bids.

Department officials hailed the decision. "We were confident that we had run a fair and solid competition, and we're pleased others agree,'' said Mitchell B. Pearlstein, director of outreach for the office of educational research and improvement.

Officials from the English-teachers' group expressed disappointment with the the GAO's ruling, but said they would not appeal it. "You can't fight city hall,'' said John C. Maxwell, the group's executive director. --RR

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