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A federal policy that relies on voluntary cooperation by state officials in reporting on education and other block-grant programs is a viable way to obtain nationally comparable data, according to the General Accounting Office.

But, the watchdog agency argued in a report to the Congress, federal officials need to do more to assist state officials in cooperative reporting efforts.

One of the Congress's goals when it established a number of block-grant programs in 1981 was to give states more authority to administer federal programs, the gao report notes.

But states began reporting to the federal government on their block grants in ways that were not uniform, thus making national comparisons difficult. So the Congress in 1984 legislated the development of collection criteria that relied heavily on the voluntary cooperation of the states.

The cooperative approach "reduced administrative burdens on state and local governments," the report says. But comparisons among the states remained difficult because of the differences in data.

Congress needs data on the block grants to justify continued federal support, the gao observed. In 1988, $508 million was appropriated for the education block-grant program.

But state officials have not had the support of the Education Department in developing a uniform data-collection system, the report says, because the department wants to "limit its role in program administration."

State officials have taken the initiative in calling for cooperation in data collection, the agency found, noting that 63 percent of state data submissions were following the suggested format in 1986, the year studied in the report.

"While states are making positive efforts, the lack of national leadership in encouraging states to use a uniform reporting format has slowed the potential of the cooperative effort," the report concludes.

President-elect Bush has asked Lamar Alexander, president of the University of Tennessee and former governor of that state, to coordinate an "education summit" of governors, other state officials, and educators.

The date and location of the summit, which Mr. Bush promised during his Presidential campaign to convene, are as yet undetermined.

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