OPA issues report on stimulus funds - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

OPA issues report on stimulus funds

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by Lannie Walker

Guam - Millions of federal funds under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act are at stake. According to the Office of the Public Accountability, the Government of Guam is falling behind in meeting certain federal guidelines that come with the funds.

Just how well has GovGuam been handling funds awarded under ARRA? The OPA issued its answer to that question in a report released this week. The stimulus package was enacted by Congress in 2009 to promote economic growth and create jobs. OPA auditor Llewelyn Terlaje says the evaluation of GovGuam's use of the funds came at the request of the Office of Department of the Interior.

According to the report, there are areas that need improvement, with Terlaje saying, "Despite the congress precedent of commitment towards transparency with the ARRA act, we found the ARRA funds that GovGuam uses is treated the same as regular federal grants."

Meaning GovGuam needs to increase its transparency and accountability for the funds, which come with different guidelines than other federal grants. The government also needs to spend it faster, according to the report. Between February 2009 and September 2010, Guam received $234.6 million in ARRA funding - as of September 2010 only $82.9 million was spent, leaving $151 million untapped.

"Well, there is a deadline to expend those moneys and if you don't expend those monies could be lost," said Terlaje. The deadline is September of this year, leaving GovGuam only five short months to spend the remaining ARRA money. This short timeframe opens the door for other potential problems according to auditor Jerrick Hernandez, who also worked on the report.

He said, "With the amount being so large at $151 million, it leaves greater room for irregular errors and even potential fraud." Another finding in this report by the OPA is that there are discrepancies between the Guam Recovery Web site and the Federal Recovery Web site - discrepancies in both had the amount received and expended, with Hernandez saying, "The guideline is that if you are going to have a state website that I mirror federal recovery web site."

In addition, Hernandez says guidelines exist stating all agencies which receive ARRA funding should have a section on their website devoted to the grants. The OPA found only eight agencies out of twenty-one that are following that rule. The OPA issued recommendations to increase oversight responsibilities and to reconcile differences in the local and federal web sites.

But while GovGuam has a long way to go in its handling of ARRA funding, Governor Eddie Calvo has taken steps to address the issue. In February, Calvo created an ARRA Rapid Grant Response Team, comprised of his chief financial officer, the lieutenant governor's chief of staff, a special assistant for education and staff from BBMR and the Guam State Clearing House officer.

The team is tasked with addressing issues related to ARRA funding.

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