To the Editor:
The opening paragraph in your article “Audit: Talent Search Participation Overstated” (March 2, 2005) makes it appear as if all Talent Search programs were found to have overstated their level of participation. In fact, the finding was only that three of the six grantees visited were deemed to have served fewer than the number of participants indicated in their grant applications. It is important to keep in mind that only six of 360 Talent Search programs nationwide (under 2 percent) were reported as having been audited.
Moreover, it is important to note that the U.S. Government Accountability Office was operating on a premise of what constituted a “participant” that was different from that of the U.S. Department of Education. In fact, the Department of Education had not defined what constituted a “participant” for Talent Search programs.
I also find it hard to believe that “none [of the programs] could provide documents to support the number of participants it claimed to have served during 2001-02.” That suggests that these programs may have served no eligible students. That would not seem to be the case, given your statement that, according to the GAO draft report, “only three of the six grantees failed to serve the required minimum of 600 participants.”
Because of the lack of adequate guidance from the Education Department to grantees, as well as other administrative problems, the validity of the GAO’s audit may be suspect. An entire program should not be condemned because of government failure to provide adequate guidance, policy, and consistency in its administration.
Talent Search, as well as other TRIO programs, have provided a multitude of services to low-income, first-generation college students despite the odds set against them. The administrative situation is improving, and I am confident that with continued progress toward better communication of policy and procedure, the fog of confusion that has surrounded the program will be lifted.
Paula J. Martin
New York, N.Y.