by Nick Delgado
Guam - Depending on who you ask, it seems there was no mishandling when it comes to federal funds with the Guam Fire Department. While Vice-Speaker B.J. Cruz has raised the issue after learning that GFD was denied nearly $11 million in federal funding for the past few years, Guam State Clearinghouse officials are now clearing the record.
"The grant that is in question is a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and is called the assistance of firefighters in the amount of $359,500 was awarded on September 29,2006 with an effective grant period of approximately three years ending on December 29, 2009," explained Roland Villaverde, Guam State Clearinghouse Administrator. "It was within the effective period of that grant, meaning it appears that it was in compliance with within that period."
Villaverde says he is not sure what Cruz's concern is about. The vice-speaker brought to light that GFD did not close out a 2006 grant until late last year, which in turn he presumed resulted in the fire department being denied some $10.6 million in federal grants. GFD Captain Ed Flores has played a huge role in writing the grants for the department.
While Flores says the change in staff since 2006 might have contributed to the confusion, he also expresses that they are not the only one's who applied for the federal monies. "We also have to understand that a lot of these grants are competitive grants of which we are competing with many different fire departments throughout the nation if not all fire departments throughout the nation," he said.
Cruz's concern was also that the funds denied could have been used to help with the critical shortage of ambulances. Flores says there are currently five medics today for the entire island. Despite the concerns, he also admits that they are working on projects that previous GFD employees abandoned. "We are actually working on previous projects to ensure that we close those out and make sure that they don't circumvent any of our other issues, grants that we are applying for now," he noted.
"I think one of our problems is our staff is smaller than other agencies but we're also dealing with those issues now."
Although Villaverde says both there records and the records at the Department of Administration clear GFD for the 2006 grant closure, he does admit that other agencies do not make the deadline to close out their grants. "These compliance issues would be picked up under the single state audit done annually," he said.
In the meantime, Flores defends all actions and attempts GFD has made in its efforts to secure federal grants. "Dropping the ball, its easy to say things when you're looking from the outside, sometimes things are not that easy, I'll admit working with grants is not an easy thing," he said.
Evidently also not easy is GFD's efforts to implement its fee schedule for ambulance services, a mechanism that's been in place years for the agency to implement to generate revenue. And to date, the Guam Fire Department hasn't collected a penny.