Report details investigation into Tony Babauta's conduct - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Report details investigation into Tony Babauta's conduct

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by Sabrina Salas Matanane

Guam - He resigned in January 2013 in the midst of a federal investigation and now over a year later in the nation's capitol the Office of the Inspector General released the investigative report into former assistant secretary for insular areas and Guam son Tony Babauta.

"I'm satisfied that it reaffirms things that I have been saying not really in the past year and a half but during the time of the investigation and the time of my resignation and my official acts and decisions as assistant secretary are legitimate endeavors that have improved the quality of life of the areas that were under my responsibility," he said.

But in a phone interview with KUAM this morning, Babauta acknowledged there were some appearances of conflicts, but he trusted then as he does now that his personal relationships with island leaders had no bearing in how he made his final decisions. It was in January 2013 Babauta resigned from his position following the launch of an investigation by the OIG into allegations that he may have been directing OIA grants and contracts to friends.  Investigators determined that Babauta directed two OIA grants to the University of Guam to support the Micronesian Center for a Sustainable Future. The report stated "both grants went to Babauta's former employer, a UOG senior official, and UOG subsequently hired Babauta's friend as the MCSF project coordinator." Our investigation revealed that UOG allowed the MCSF project coordinator to expend close to $33,000 in grant funds on unallowable expenses, many of which were to his personal benefit.

"There was absolutely no favoritism with the University of Guam. I did a lot of business and grants for all different islands and one of the first places we went to when we went to an island it was a grant that appropriate for an institution of higher learning then we went there. Actually in effect most of the universities and community colleges in all the various islands have a solid track record of receiving federal grants either from the DOI or other federal agencies that have the financial infrastructure to be able to report manage and audit the grant," he shared.

The OIG also received allegations that he mistreated his employees through discrimination and sexual harassment.  When one employee was interviewed she described an instance in which Babauta commented on her chair being warm as a result of her buttocks being warm. Babauta told investigators that he may have said it in a joking way but was only referring to the temperature of the chair.

 This same employee however said Babauta sometimes made off color jokes, but they were typical jokes made by other male colleagues.  In another instance an intern who was interviewed described Babauta as a "shady guy" and that he often commented on her clothes and told her she was wearing sexy shoes.

He told KUAM News, "When I was first notified about the commencement of the investigation I was told by the OIG that I was being investigated on three separate sexual harassment cases I think the bulk of the three were all mentioned in the report and dismissed as well in the report but at the start of the investigation I was made aware that although there were three separate sexual harassment allegations against me none of the women that were alleged to have been harassed had filed the report it was filed by somebody other than the three that felt that my actions were inappropriate toward the women."

According to the inspector generals' findings interviews with current and former OIA employees support that Babauta made inappropriate comments to employees and conducted himself unprofessionally at times.

And despite allegations that Babauta used government travel to see his girlfriend. Traveled to Saipan with no mission, and allegations that he traveled to Guam frequently for political reasons.

Investigators did not find evidence that Babauta used government travel for personal gain, but there were certain trips for government business in which he appeared to benefit personally.

In a written statement Babauta said that he was embarrassed by the personal matters that were included in the DOI report and apologized to his family. He added that he is grateful for the support that many have expressed for his term in office and is happy that this final report brings closure to his tenure. Babauta said that he will continue working toward improving our islands and looks forward to opportunities to return to public service.

The OIG referred this case to the US Attorneys Office for the districts of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. However on July 30th, 2013 the US Attorneys Office declined the case for criminal prosecution.

The University of Guam stands by its record in competing for federal grants and in its administration of grant projects from multiple federal agencies.

As for the Micronesian Center for A Sustainable Future that was cited in the OIG report, a statement issued by UOG clarifies that though the MCSF is not a university entity  the administration of the MCSF grant was an important effort by UOG to provide assistance to the Micronesian chief executives and directly correlates to its regional mission.

As for the OIG finding that UOG allowed the MSCF project coordinator to expend close to $33,000 in grant funds on unallowable expenses. UOG states that upon further review by the Department of Interior all but $4,100 in grant funds were determined to be allowable.

UOG also says it followed government policies in regards to the selection and contracting of the MSCF coordinator and adhered to procurement law for purchases under the MSCF grant.

The statement from UOG added that the investigative report has not affected its ability to apply for and receive grant funding from DOI and other federal agencies. 

The University of Guam has reviewed the Investigative Report of Anthony Babuata by the Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General and provides the following statement:
 
The University stands by its record in competing for federal grants and in its administration of grant projects from multiple federal agencies. In FY2013, UOG managed over 110 grants infusing over $38M into the economies of Guam and the region.
 
Though the Micronesian Center for a Sustainable Future (MCSF) is not a University entity, the administration of the MCSF grant was an important effort by UOG to provide assistance to the Micronesian Chief Executives and directly correlates to our regional mission. UOG remains an active partner of the region by providing research, technical assistance and service through federal grants and contracts.
 
Grants awarded to UOG through DOI have been competitively sought and have followed the technical review processes required by DOI. In addition, UOG followed government policies in regards to the selection and contracting of the MCSF Coordinator and adhered to procurement law for purchases under the MCSF grant.
 
Upon further review by the Department of the Interior, all but $4,133.56 of the $32,636.34 in grant funds listed by the report, were determined to be allowable. This represents less than 1% of the MCSF grant funding.
 
The investigative report has not affected the ability of UOG to apply for and receive grant funding from DOI and other federal agencies. We are grateful for the work and support of Assistant Secretary Babauta during his tenure in office and for the opportunity to participate in many projects and activities which are of continuing benefit for the people of the region as well as the University of Guam.
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