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Federal File: Bean counting

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The National Technical Institute for the Deaf, a tiny, easily overlooked line in the federal budget, found itself the subject of unaccustomed scrutiny last month.

The institution "has not adequately accounted for its expenditure of federal funds, has inappropriately carried over federal funds from one year to the next, and it may have used federal funds improperly,'' General Accounting Office auditors charged in a report.

The G.A.O. study, conducted at the request of the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees on labor, health and human services, and education, was prompted by fiscal 1992 reports from those subcommittees that questioned whether the institute is using its money properly and whether the Education Department is properly monitoring the situation.

Located at the Rochester Institute of Technology, the N.T.I.D. was created in 1966 by federal legislation that authorized the government to contract with a higher-education institution to operate a technical training and education program for deaf people. More than 3,000 technical degrees have been awarded through the institute since then, and more than 600 students have obtained bachelor's degrees after completing coursework at R.I.T.

The institute received 83 percent of its total revenues from the federal government in fiscal 1994, or about $41.8 million.

The G.A.O. found that, because the N.T.I.D. "commingled federal funds with nonfederal funds,'' it was not possible to determine how federal dollars were spent.

Moreover, it said, the institute violated a contract with the department and improperly carried over more than $2.9 million in federal funds from one year to the next.

The report also raised the specter of federal dollars being used for parties and gifts during fiscal years 1990 through 1992, although it could not determine whether the $32,000 spent for such purposes came from federal sources.

The G.A.O. also said that federal oversight of the N.T.I.D.'s educational programs and administration has been "minimal.''

However, the report also notes that the N.T.I.D. has recently established separate accounts to track the expenditure of federal and nonfederal funds and developed policies on the expenditure of federal funds consistent with those that apply to other institutions that receive federal dollars.--MARK PITSCH

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