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Head Start: Undercover Testing Finds Fraud and Abuse at Selected Head Start Centers

GAO-10-733T Published: May 18, 2010. Publicly Released: May 18, 2010.
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The Head Start program, overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services and administered by the Office of Head Start, provides child development services primarily to low-income families and their children. Federal law allows up to 10 percent of enrolled families to have incomes above 130 percent of the poverty line--GAO refers to them as "over-income." Families with incomes below 130 percent of the poverty line, or who meet certain other criteria, are referred to as "under-income". Nearly 1 million children a year participate in Head Start, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided an additional $2.1 billion in funding. GAO received hotline tips alleging fraud and abuse by grantees. In response, GAO investigated the validity of the allegations, conducted undercover tests to determine if other centers were committing fraud, and documented instances where potentially eligible children were put on Head Start wait lists. The investigation of allegations is ongoing. To perform this work, GAO interviewed grantees and a number of informants and reviewed documentation. GAO used fictitious identities and bogus documents for proactive testing of Head Start centers. GAO also interviewed families on wait lists. Results of undercover tests and family interviews cannot be projected to the entire Head Start program. In a corrective action briefing, agency officials agreed to address identified weaknesses.

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AccountabilityChildrenDisadvantaged personsDocumentationEligibility criteriaEligibility determinationsFamiliesIneligible granteesInformation managementInvestigations by federal agenciesNonprofit organizationsProgram abusesRecordsRisk managementTestingUndercover operationsCorrective actionWaste, fraud, and abuse