Jesse Jackson Agrees To Audit, May Get Funds

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Washington--The Education Department, which recently rescinded an $825,000 grant to the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson's PUSH-EXCEL program, may reverse itself and award the money after all, according to a department official.

Vincent E. Reed, assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education--who revoked the grant on Sept. 11 because PUSH-EXCEL allegedly refused to allow a federal review of its auditing procedures--said that the Chicago organization agreed last week to permit the review.

"If they permit the auditors to look at the books, there's a possibility, a good possibility, the grant might be returned," Mr. Reed said.

John C. Yazurlo, assistant inspector general of the department, said federal auditors were to begin a 10-day audit review last Wednesday.

Mr. Jackson, said by his staff to be en route to a meeting in Las Vegas, was unavailable for comment.

PUSH-EXCEL, which stands for "push for excellence," is a motivational program for inner-city high school students and their families. The program centers on Mr. Jackson's inspirational messages, repeating such themes as "I am somebody," and "Up with hope, down with dope."

The program has received a total of $5.6 million in federal funds since 1978, including grants from the Commerce and Labor Departments. Education Department (E.D.) funds support programs in five urban school systems: Denver, Chicago, Buffalo, Chattanooga, and Kansas City, Mo.

The disputed E.D. award is the final segment of a $3-million, three-year grant originally made to Mr. Jackson's program in 1979. The amount was originally set at $1 million for fiscal 1981, but it was reduced by a budget-recisions act Congress passed last spring.

The audit controversy began this summer after a preliminary review of PUSH-EXCEL's auditing procedures by the Commerce Department criticized the program's accounting methods and resulted in a request on July 2 that the organization return $56,411 of its Commerce Department grant.

After discussion with Commerce officials, E.D.'s inspector general requested that his department's auditors also be permitted to review the program's books.

Instead, PUSH-EXCEL's general counsel, John H. Bustamante, wrote to the department suggesting that in lieu of conducting an audit, the department should award the funds directly to the schools that sponsor PUSH-EXCEL programs.

Mr. Reed responded earlier this month that "push was funded by the department with the best of intentions--to implement innovative education activities for needy children--and it was in this spirit that we were prepared to continue the project under the proposed grant."

He added, however, that the department "cannot provide funds to organizations that fail to cooperate with the most minimum requirement to account for federal funds."

Mr. Reed said that his letter "was not a final determination. We had not refused the grant; PUSH-EXCEL, by not permitting the audit, refused the grant."

James Felder, executive vice president of PUSH-EXCEL, said the matter was all a misunderstanding. "We never refused to let the Education Department see the books. We told them that our auditors, Arthur Anderson & Company, would be doing their audit this summer, and we didn't have room until they were finished," he said.

Mr. Felder said the Anderson firm has been conducting annual audits for PUSH-EXCEL since 1977. He said his organization offered to permit E.D. auditors to review the Anderson audit.

Mr. Reed said that offer was refused because it would be "improper" for the federal agency to make such an arrangement.

The E.D.-sponsored part of PUSH-EXCEL is evaluated every six months by the American Institutes for Research. Three evaluations have been completed so far; each one concluded that PUSH-EXCEL has met with mixed success.

Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell recommended to Congress last spring that the program's 1981 grant be revoked because of the mixed evaluations.

Evaluators have said that the program is a "movement" rather than a specific set of curricula, which PUSH-EXCEL officials readily admit. "You can't measure it like you measure other programs. It's inspirational," said Mr. Felder.

Mr. Felder also said that, because of the problems with the Education and Commerce Departments, the organization will refuse a $1-million grant for 1982 that was recently awarded by the Labor Department and will no longer apply for federal funds.

"There's bad blood between this administration and PUSH-EXCEL," he said.

Vol. 01, Issue 03, Pages 1, 11

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