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Grant distribution debate continues

On the Hill, Dorcas Hardy is perceived as a tough, hard-line Reaganite, sticking to the administration's line. To get a grant from her old department, say some critics of hers on the House Intergovernmental Relations and Human Resources Committee, the one applying had to be completely loyal to Mr. Reagan. Those who spoke out against the adminstration, regardless of their other qualifications, never got her OK, they charge. Not true, says Miguel Torrado, who supervised her grantmaking program from 1982 to 1984.

``We live in a political environment,'' he admits, ``with letters coming in from congressmen for each grant. But I never saw political considerations as part of the [grantmaking] process.''

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Still, the distribution of federal grants is an issue that has gotten her into hot water on the Hill more than once. The grant procedure includes doling out the applications to experts in the field, who rate them on a scale of one to 100.

Before Ms. Hardy's tenure at Human Development Services, grants were typically assigned to those with a rating of 90 or above. Under her supervision, applicants with ratings of 70 or less sometimes walked away with the grant.

She was accused of not following grant procedures and steering the money toward those with a conservative agenda. Hardy, however, says she set out to ``change the debate. We gave hundreds of little grants - $10,000, $25,000, things that wouldn't keep the Beltway Bandits [large consulting firms that rim the Washington Beltway] alive.'' Many of these acted as ``seed grants - monies matched or exceeded by the local community, so the federal government would just be helping to get something started,'' she says.

A read-out of the grants she approved lends only partial support to her arguments, however. The average grant given under her supervision was roughly $60,000, for one thing. And not all the grantees fit with her image of small grass-roots organizations - one outfit that received nearly $880,000 for six grants in fiscal year 1985, for example, was the American Bar Association. Two of these grants were picked over others which had received a more favorable rating.

And a disproportionate number of grants went to organizations in California, Mr. Reagan's home state - more than to any other single state, according to a spokesman from the office of Rep. Ted Weiss (D) of New York, who chairs the Intergovernmental Relations Committee. Mr. Torrado says this reflects the number of applications coming from the state, not any attempt by Ms. Hardy's staff to steer grants in that direction.

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