Meanwhile, the General Accounting Office said yesterday that controversial Education Department audits concluding that bilingual education grant recipients in Texas should return $5.9 million were seriously flawed.

The GAO concluded that the department inspector general's office misinterpreted relevant laws and regulations, failed to provide sufficient evidence to support findings and recommendations, and did not follow government audit standards.

The GAO evaluation was requested by Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Tex.), chairman of the House Government Operations Committee, after widespread allegations by the grant recipients that the audits recommending the return of the money were, in the words of one recipient, "grossly erroneous."

"The audit process plays a critical role in ensuring accountability in the use of federal tax dollars," Brooks said in releasing the GAO report. "At the same time, however, the poor quality of these particular audits disrupted the grant recipients' bilingual education programs, forcing them to spend thousands of dollars challenging the auditors' findings, and subjecting them to unwarranted adverse publicity."

The audits were conducted in 1981 of grants awarded to six school districts, the Region One Education Service Center in Edinburg and the Texas Education Agency. The auditors concluded the recipients had not provided effective bilingual education to Hispanic children, and had not complied with applicable federal laws and regulations.

Although the auditors recommended that the recipients return $5.9 million, program administrators later reduced the amount to $123,688. Only $9,908 has been returned and the rest is currently under appeal.