USDOE personnel here to review compliance with high risk requirements
Three senior officials of the U.S. Department of Education are in American Samoa to review the local government’s compliance to meet requirements which will enable them to remove the “high risk” status imposed ten years ago.
The delegation, led by USDOE's assistant Secretary of Risk Management, arrived last Friday with the first meeting held yesterday with Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga, followed by other meetings throughout the week until Friday, when the officials return to the U.S.
The visit by the USDOE delegation was announced by the governor’s chief legal counsel Steven Watson at last Friday’s cabinet meeting. “These meetings are extremely important,” he noted, and urged all directors involved to attend the meetings. Watson is chairman of ASG's High Risk Task Force.
Lolo says it's been seven months since he appointed the task force, which was given the responsibility to work along with other departments to get American Samoa out of high risk status and it's time the government expedite its removal.
He said all those directors involved in the high risk status must attend all of the scheduled meetings with USDOE. Lolo reiterated earlier statements that "this group" of cabinet members are experienced and he wants everyone to work together to remove the high risk.
“Hopefully we can get out of [the high risk] by the end of this year. So whatever you do, put that in your timeline,” he said and pointed out that directors set to take part in Friday’s USDOE meeting must attend, instead of going to the stadium for the ASG labor day event.
“Let’s get out of this whole thing and start anew, and give the federal government the chance to have confidence… in how we do things.”
Because there are still numerous deficiencies the territorial government has not addressed when it comes to USDOE grant funds, Lolo was informed in June this year by USDOE that the “high risk” grantee status remains. They however noted that due to the new administration’s focus on the issue, the USDOE was willing to keep special conditions at its current level — reports would be still be required every 6 months, instead of quarterly (3 months), despite the reports being filed late.
Due to the high risk status, the USDOE has imposed special conditions on all grants awarded to ASG agencies including, but not limited to, the American Samoa Department of Education (ASDOE) and the American Samoa Department of Health (ASDOH) for Federal Fiscal Year (FFY) 2013.
The conditions also apply to other USDOE federally funded programs, such as the Vocational Rehabilitation program and State Independent Living Services program.
BUDGET HEARING DELAY
During the cabinet meeting, Watson said a letter was to go out to the Fono budget committees asking them to reschedule to next week the appearance of the Budget and Planning Office director Catherine Aigamaua-Saelua, Treasurer Dr. Falema’o ‘Phil’ M. Pili and Education Department director Vaitinasa Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau.
He said a fixed schedule of meetings with USDOE has already been made, and at this point, he thinks it’s too late to reshuffle the schedule.
Aigamaua-Saelua and Pili are the first government directors scheduled for Fono joint budget hearings, which start at 9:30a.m. tomorrow (Wednesday), while Vaitinasa is scheduled to testify at 1p.m. Thursday.
During yesterday’s Senate session, Senate Budget and Appropriation Committee chairman Sen. Laolagi F.S. Vaeao says the Fono leadership received late Friday afternoon a request from the governor’s office to rescheduled to next week testimonies by Pili, Aigamaua-Saelua and Vaitinasa because of the USDOE high risk meetings this week.
Therefore, he said Fono joint budget hearings will not start this week but instead will commence early next week with a new schedule of hearings to be released soon.
It’s expected that hearings will begin next Tuesday since Monday, Sept. 2nd, is the federal and local Labor Day holiday.
US ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS
Lolo also shared with directors that he recently held a meeting with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials who came down from Hawai’i “because we failed to do our job — and that I don’t like. They took it upon themselves to come down and look at the problems we have. They looked at the schools" he said, but didn’t provide more details.
Army Corps officials did conduct an assessment of all public schools, which found several buildings to be old. “Please let us work together, restore their faith in us, that we can do our own stuff and we can move forward,” the governor said.
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