GAO seeks ab­sti­nence ac­count­abil­ity in pro­grams for young peo­ple

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Ch­eryl Wet­zstein

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment can do more to mon­i­tor whether tax­payer-funded ab­sti­nence ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams are med­i­cally ac­cu­rate and ef­fec­tive, a watch­dog agency said in a new re­port.

Both fed­eral and state agen­cies say they have found at least a few “in­ac­cu­ra­cies” in ab­sti­nence ed­u­ca­tion ma­te­ri­als, the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice (GAO) re­ports. The De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices (HHS), which over­sees the two agen­cies that award ab­sti­nence grants, can do more to “as­sure the ac­cu­racy” of ma­te­ri­als used in such pro­grams.

The GAO also found nu­mer­ous ef­forts to mea­sure the ef­fec­tive­ness of ab­sti­nence pro­grams. But many of th­ese eval­u­a­tions aren’t “sci­en­tific” enough, and “a num­ber of fac­tors limit the con­clu­sions that can be drawn about” the pro­grams, it said.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment spent about $158 mil­lion on ab­sti­nence ed­u­ca­tion in 2005.

In re­sponse to the GAO find­ings, HHS As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary for Leg­is­la­ture Vin­cent J. Ven­timiglia said the agency might ask its Ad­min­is­tra­tion for Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies (ACF) — which awards the bulk of ab­sti­nence grants — to have its grantees sign writ­ten as­sur­ances that their ma­te­ri­als are ac­cu­rate.

How­ever, HHS “does not agree with key claims” in the GAO re­port, Mr. Ven­timiglia said. All fed­eral grant ap­pli­cants must at­test that “all data in their ap­pli­ca­tions are true and cor­rect,” and ab­sti­nence ap­pli­cants also must sub­mit cur­ric­ula that “con­form to and are thor­oughly grounded in” sci­en­tific lit­er­a­ture. ACF re­views th­ese ap­pli­ca­tions, in­clud­ing cur­ric­ula, “to en­sure com­pli­ance with th­ese sci­en­tif­i­cally valid stan­dards,” he said.

William Smith of the Sex­u­al­ity In­for­ma­tion and Ed­u­ca­tion Coun­cil of the United States cheered the GAO re­port.

The new Demo­cratic-led Congress ought to “en­force ac­count­abil­ity” in ab­sti­nence fund- ing, Mr. Smith said. He noted that Rep. Henry A. Wax­man, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, in­com­ing chair­man of the House Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee and one of those who re­quested the GAO re­port, al­ready has found mis­in­for­ma­tion in some ab­sti­nence cur­ric­ula.

“Ig­no­rance is no­body’s ally in the era of AIDS,” said James Wagoner, pres­i­dent of Ad­vo­cates for Youth, an­other critic of ab­sti­nence-only ed­u­ca­tion.

But ab­sti­nence sup­port­ers said they wel­come the over­sight — and they ex­pect it to ap­ply to other sex ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams, too.

“Project Re­al­ity is happy to have our cur­ric­ula re­viewed for sci­en­tific ac­cu­racy,” said Libby Macke, di­rec­tor of the Illi­nois group, adding that its ma­te­ri­als are “fre­quently up­dated and re­viewed by med­i­cal per­son­nel.”

Mrs. Macke urged the GAO to of­fer a “timely” re­sponse to a re­quest, filed in March by 21 House Repub­li­cans, for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the “med­i­cal ac­cu­racy” and un­bi­ased eval­u­a­tion of fed­er­ally funded HIV/AIDS and teen preg­nancy pre­ven­tion pro­grams.

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