Administration and Subsequent Termination by the National Center for Health Services Research, HEW, of a Research Demonstration Grant to the University of Southern California for Project Search

MWD-76-100: Published: Mar 9, 1976. Publicly Released: Feb 19, 1982.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO obtained information relating to the administration and subsequent termination of a 5-year research demonstration grant for Project SEARCH, a project to develop an automated information and referral system for medical and social services providers which would increase the percentage of appropriate health care referrals by health workers.

During the 5-year grant period, an inventory of individual and organizational providers of medical and social services was substantially completed and stored in a computer data bank. Computer programs were developed to provide access to the data by matching service needs. Several publications were produced from these data. However, computer terminals necessary to test the impact of the system on referral outcomes were never installed. As a solution to the computer service problem, the project staff requested additional funding and a 3-month extension of the grant. A team of consultants evaluated the project and concluded that the project had not met its objectives and that there were weaknesses in the computer system design. Therefore, an extension of the project was disapproved. GAO questioned the fairness of the manner in which the site visit was conducted. Last minute agenda changes disrupted an orderly presentation by the project staff. However, GAO made no conclusions regarding the objectivity of the study group's decision to terminate the project. Although termination might have been avoided by adequate monitoring and technical assistance, GAO believed that project officials were remiss in allowing the project to continue for such a long time without a firm agreement for computer services.

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