News in Brief

December 10, 2003 2 min read

Education Department Given Clean Audit

For the second straight year, the Department of Education has earned a “clean” audit report of its financial records.

“We have made great strides in improving financial operations here at the Department of Education,” Secretary Rod Paige said in a Nov. 26 press release announcing the findings.

The designation of “clean” for fiscal 2003, in an audit conducted by the accounting firm Ernst & Young, reflects the firm’s unqualified acceptance of the Education Department’s financial statements.

The federal agency has been plagued in recent years by financial mismanagement and incidents of fraud. Secretary Paige formed a high-level management-improvement team in 2001 to address such matters. Prior to fiscal 2002, it had not received an unqualified audit since 1997 (“Auditors Give Ed. Dept. First ‘Clean’ Review in Six Years,” Feb. 19, 2003.)

—Erik W. Robelen

Bill Introduced in Congress On School Food Safety

Concerned about the quality of food eaten by schoolchildren, an Illinois congresswoman has introduced a bill that would give the public easy access to the safety records of food suppliers.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s “National Food Safety Database” would contain information about whether a company has a history of providing safe food. It would also document outbreaks of foodborne illness that originated from a particular provider or enforcement action taken against a company.

Rep. Schakowsky, a Democrat, introduced the legislation because of an outbreak of food poisoning earlier this year in an Illinois school in which ammonia-tainted food served in the cafeteria sickened dozens of students and teachers.

The incident was blamed on a breakdown in the communications system meant to alert schools and other institutions about possible food hazards. Even when government agencies suspect that dangerous food is en route to districts, Ms. Schakowsky said, schools have no way to determine if those products are in their kitchens.

“Currently, the ability of hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and child-care providers to provide quality care is compromised by their inability to get adequate and timely food safety information,” she said in a Nov. 25 statement published in the Congressional Record.

“We need to prevent outbreaks of foodborne illness in our schools,” she said.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

AmeriCorps in Line For Budget Increase

Following a year of membership and budget cuts, the national- service program AmeriCorps is set to receive a major funding boost.

Under an agreement between House and Senate negotiators on an omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2004, AmeriCorps would receive $444 million, an increase of $170 million over last year’s spending levels. The pending budget for AmeriCorps, which is $10 million more than the amount requested by President Bush, would allow the program to enroll 75,000 members in fiscal 2004.

Because of financial mismanagement at the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal office that oversees AmeriCorps, Congress capped the number of AmeriCorps members it would allow at 30,000, a decrease of 20,000 over the previous year.

That decision led to widespread protests from the nonprofit groups that AmeriCorps supports (“Americans of All Stripes Converge to Urge More AmeriCorps Funding,” Sept. 10, 2003.)

Many AmeriCorps members, who receive a monthly living stipend, work as mentors, tutors, or after-school care providers.

—Michelle Galley