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ASG Stimulus Office relocated to Treasury Dept

Monitoring ARRA money to TOFR, ARRA clearing house to Gov’s Office
reporters@samoanews.com

With no budget to operate in the current fiscal year, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has “relocated” the American Samoa Economic Stimulus and Recovery Office (ASESRO) to the Treasury Department, and the ASESRO executive director is now the ASG Treasurer.

This change to ASESRO, better known as the ASG Stimulus Office, which oversees and monitors all federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), or stimulus money, was made in an executive order issued by Lolo on Monday.

Lolo’s order, his first as governor, amends the 2009 order issued by then Gov. Togiola Tulafono establishing ASESRO, which was overseen by director Pat Galeai, who also heads the ASG Federal Grants Office.

While ASESRO is now part of the Treasury Department, the monitoring functions dealing with ARRA money have been assigned to the Territorial Office of Fiscal Reform and Clearing House functions taken over by the Governor’s Office staff, according to Lolo’s office.

EXECUTIVE ORDER

The executive order states that the Treasurer is appointed the “permanent executive director” of ASESRO, which was previously under the purview of the Governor’s Office, and ASESRO is now an agency within the Treasury Department.

The executive director shall manage and have charge over all assets and personnel of the stimulus office in accordance with established law, policy and procedures, the order states and noted that the Treasury Department “shall make and keep a full and accurate accounting of all ARRA funding for projects and programs.”

Faced with a $44.55 million deficit as well as a projected deficit of $5.2 million at the end of the current fiscal year, the governor’s office says Lolo had no choice but to make the “painful decision” to transfer ASESRO to the Treasury Department.

Also in accordance with the governor’s general memorandum of Jan. 4 on “cost containment measures”  all ASG positions not funded in the current fiscal year 2013 budget are terminated, said the governor’s office. (It’s understood that some 12 people were employed with ASESRO and it’s unclear as to how many of them were still there when the Lolo administration took the ASG helm on Jan. 3.)

The close to $500,000 to fund operations for ASESRO in FY 2013 was cut by the Fono during last year’s budget hearings, leaving no money to operate the office for the current fiscal year. Togiola had complained about the Fono’s action and had planned to submit last October an FY 2013 supplemental budget during a special session. However, the special session lasted for only two days before the Fono ended the session, citing the several issues at hand, which included the ASESRO budget, was best decided by the new administration and Fono.

BACKGROUND

A manager for the TOFR office has yet to be named by the new administration, as Dr. Falema'o M. "Phil" Pili, the agency’s former manager has been appointed as Treasurer. The agency’s deputy director is Salu Tuigamala and it is unknown at this time if this has changed.

Of note, one of the ARRA programs monitored by ASESRO is the 1602 low income housing tax credit program. The ASESRO executive director was charged with responsibility of overseeing the federally funded Section 1602 program in late May 2011, when the federal government (US Treasury) cut off funding to the program, insisting that ASESRO become actively involved in monitoring it.

ASESRO released a project report on the 1602 program in October identifying several problems with it, including the need for ‘low income housing’ in the territory was over estimated and applicants were not all treated equally when their applications were reviewed.



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