The Utah State Office of Education has made progress toward correcting weaknesses disclosed in a performance audit last December, the Office of the Legislative Auditor General says. However, some problems remain, the auditor general added.

The auditor's office sent a letter to Rep. Hugh D. Rush, R-West Valley City, who requested the audit. It reports that the education office has begun implementing both a staff timekeeping system and program/project controls as a first step in gaining control of its programs.

While progress is being made in some areas identified in the December 1987 audit, the education office needs to continue to improve the follow-up on established priorities and to moderate the number of projects it attempts to develop, the letter said.

An additional audit will be undertaken during 1989 to determine if the Office of Education has continued to resolve the issues raised by the first performance audit, said Auditor General Wayne Welsh.

James R. Moss, state superintendent of public instruction, responded to the update with a letter of his own to Welsh.

Moss said that many of the steps that have been undertaken to strengthen internal controls in the office were already under way when the audit was publicized last winter.

"As you know, we have taken the original audit very seriously and have made great efforts to implement the recommendations provided," he wrote. The office will continue to refine its practices to address the remaining concerns of the audit, he said.

The auditor general said in his letter to Rush that the office has created task forces to address particular areas of the audit. They are developing master plans to resolve weaknesses in these areas, Welsh said.

Projects will have more control at the administrative and board levels with the initiation of a review process. Projects will be measured against goals and priorities established by the State Board of Education and Legislature.

The demands of the task forces developed to evaluate projects could create time constraints for staff, the follow-up report says. Although office coordinators commended the new system, they are concerned with the amount of time necessary to track more than 60 projects. In some cases, projects are being selectively eliminated, the report says. The committees are not generating new projects, but trying to analyze and track those already under way.

"The system has enabled the staff to better recognize what they are doing, but is also showing them they are trying to do too much," Welsh said.

A timekeeping system developed to determine where employees are spending their time is beneficial, but may be too cumbersome, the auditor said. The system has too many categories for efficient charting of time, the report suggests.

The major conclusion of the interim report is that "the State Office of Education is making progress toward the implementation of the audit's recommendations. It has revised its operation to reflect an orderly top-down approach and is making significant progress on its program development and timekeeping systems. We do suggest that the office improve the follow-up of its established priorities and to moderate the number of projects it attempts to develop."

Moss noted in his letter that the office has made sound professional administrative practices a goal and has made progress in defining its relationship to the State Board of Education.

He repeated concerns that the audit has been misinterpreted by "some political entities" who continue to imply that the original audit involved money, rather than performance. No evidence of fiscal mismanagement was ever found or reported by the auditor's office, he said.