For the first time, the House has received a clean audit report on its financial statements from outside accountants, a leadership aide said yesterday.

House Republicans plan to release the audit report today at a news conference held by Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Administration Committee.

The audit covered $1.7 billion of assets, liabilities and expenses for the year ending Dec. 31, 1998, and represents a four-year turnabout on the House's part, according to the aide, who asked not to be identified.

In 1995, an audit ordered by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) after Republicans took control of Congress portrayed the House's financial management systems as a mess.

The new audit, by the accounting firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers, expressed no reservations about the House's financial statements and cash flow for the year studied, according to the House GOP aide.

The report, however, listed five "internal control weaknesses," such as obsolete payroll systems and poor controls over computer data, but noted that significant progress has been made in resolving such problems.

The 1995 audit found that House officers kept track of millions of dollars on handwritten ledgers in which numbers were sometimes scratched out. Auditors discovered about $14 million in over-budget spending by House offices and the award of contracts for supplies and equipment without competitive bidding. They also found 2,200 double payments of travel vouchers, worth about $900,000, but no evidence that the money was repaid.

The 1995 audit helped Republicans underscore their policy differences with House Democrats. The GOP "privatized" the House barbershop and shoe-shine service and closed the "folding room," turning its mass-mail operation over to a private company. Republican leaders strengthened the House inspector general, increasing the IG staff from three to 20 and the budget from $300,000 to $4 million.

To prepare for subsequent audits, the House set up procedures to ensure that financial transactions were properly recorded, installed a new, automated system to track accounts, and set up controls to monitor members and accounts for excess spending.