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Commentary: Transition teams provide a crash course in ASG shortcomings

In keeping with his pledge for a transparent and accountable government, Governor-elect Lolo Moliga allowed the news media to observe the presentation by dozens of transition team leaders who have spent the past few weeks looking into over 40 government agencies. (See separate article describing the process.)

Transition Team Chairman Afoa Lutu, who is Lolo’s choice for Attorney General, said the written reports submitted by the team will be released to the media when they are finalized in the next week or two.

It appears that there is a good reason why Congressman Faleomavaega Eni said recently that he doesn’t envy Lolo and Lemanu, given the immensity of the challenges facing them.

As the 14 hours of transition team presentation revealed, there are a wide variety of deep problems in most agencies of the government. Wide and deep.

Here are some of the issues that came up over and over again:

• Personnel. There were frequent refrains of “need more staff, staff needs more training, or staff is underpaid.” There were occasional refrains of “over-staffed, too top heavy.” There were frequent refrains of: “missing job descriptions, job assignments do not match job titles, or job titles do not match budget.” In general, it is clear that there are a lot of mis-matches between workforce, organization chart, job descriptions and budget.

• Budget. Few transition teams were able to get a clear picture of an agency’s finances. When a clear picture was possible, the situation was gloomy.

• Asset management. Few transition teams were able to get an accurate schedule of the physical assets of an agency (e.g., vehicles, computers, boats). When schedules were provided, by either the agency or the Office of Property Management, there were often big gaps between the observed reality and what the schedule listed. Sometimes assets listed on the schedules could not be found and sometimes assets that could be seen were not included on the schedules.

• Boards and commissions. Local law mandates many boards and commissions to guide and carry out the work of various agencies. In many cases, the boards were not properly constituted (e.g., members were still serving even though their terms have expired), were not fully constituted (e.g., there are not enough confirmed board members to conduct business), or were simply not in existence (e.g., the boards had not met in eons).

• Transparency and cooperation. Although most teams reported that the initial cooperation from the agencies was good, many teams reported that the initial cooperation changed when Transition Team members asked for information about various topics, such as contracts and bank accounts. Occasionally, information requested by the Transition Team was denied on the basis of “confidentiality.”

The summary above does not do justice to the enormity of the challenge that faces the incoming administration, if the Transition Team reports are accurate. Nor does it do justice to the impressive spirit of “problem identification” and “problem solving” that was evident as Governor-elect Lolo presided over the two days of presentations and follow-up questions.

It was a unique opportunity to take stock of our government: the good, the bad and the ugly. Thanks to the commitment of the people involved, the unique opportunity will (hopefully) lead to improvements in government organization and operations in the next four years.

Time and again, Lolo told transition teams not to expect increased funding as they developed recommendations for solving problems. He urged them to be innovative in their approach to resolving deficiencies. In other words: we won’t have money to fix these problems, so try to figure out a way to make progress at no additional cost.

It is evident that many of the 400 volunteer (unpaid) members of the various transition teams took their assignments seriously and it seemed that few were engaged in acts of political retribution. There were many great reports reflecting hard work and many hours of effort.

Transition Team Chair Afoa Lutu told me, “even though we have had changes in administration before, this kind of analysis has never been done before.” The people of American Samoa (and of course the incoming administration) owe a huge “Faafetai” to the teams.