High Risk Elimination Task Force established

To improve the American Samoa Government’s financial integrity with federal grantors, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has established a High Risk Elimination Task Force made up of directors and he hopes that the task force will address and correct the “high risk” designation by August this year.


The previous Togiola administration had established its own task force with the goal to address concerns of the federal government and to lift the “high risk” status that has been in place for many years. However, the designation remains.


Under the new administration, Lolo has moved to address this same issue, which he promised during his speech to the Fono in January, saying that his administration will provide needed assistance to the local Department of Education (ASDOE) “to complete all reports in arrears and other mitigation actions demanded” by the U.S. Department of Education to terminate the high risk status placed on ASDOE.


In a letter sent to cabinet members last week, Lolo named his task force members: ASDOE director Salu Hunkin-Finau, Treasurer Dr. Falema’o ‘Phil’ M. Pili, Human Resources director Le’i Sonny Thompson, Chief Procurement Officer Ti’atalaga John Kruse and Budget Office director Catherine Aigamaua-Saelua.


“To improve our financial integrity with federal grantor agencies, it is imperative that we demonstrate our commitment to total adherence to all grants terms and conditions,” Lolo wrote. “Projecting and displaying this attitude depends on our current efforts to establish operating systems which will guarantee that the administration of all federal grants is compliant with all grants conditions.”


“This vision can only be made possible through correcting current operating flaws which have been cited in program audits and directives from federal grantors” he said.


According to the governor, the task force is established to ensure that all corrective action mandated by the grantor agencies are implemented promptly. Moreover, the task force will make sure that new operating procedures will be put in place to stop further replication of these problems.


The Governor’s legal counsel, Steven Watson has been tasked to coordinate the task force’s work.


“AS time is of essence, please take steps to move this task forward,” said Lolo, who hopes that by Aug. 31 this year, “issues concerning the high risk status will have been addressed and corrected.”


The major federal grantor that has kept ASG on the high risk status, is the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE), which contributes millions of dollars in grant funding every year to American Samoa.


A USDOE summary report submitted to the February federal Interagency Group on Insular Area (IGIA) meeting in Washington D.C, states in part that ASG and ASDOE have focused their resources, along with assistance from their contractors, to address and resolve the action items listed on their Corrective Action Plan (CAP), which was developed in response to numerous material weaknesses and noncompliance findings reported in single audit reports and ASG’s designation as a high-risk grantee by USDOE.


Although ASG reported that it has made some progress in addressing the issues identified in certain CAP items, much more work needs to be done to ensure all CAP items are completed and resolved in a timely manner, the report says.


Specific challenges remain in the areas of procurement, internal controls, development of written policies and procedures for various business processes, and development of credible integrated financial and data management systems, it says.


“To this end, the most critical and time-sensitive action items include a timely completion of expansion and upgrading, and the complete implementation of ASG’s IFAS without further delays,” the report stated. (IFAS is the government computer system.)


“Also critical is a timely implementation of a LDS [Longitudinal Data System] throughout the entire school system with the capability to administer and maintain student data using one central system instead of having separate databases.”


During her Senate confirmation hearing in late January this year, Hunkin-Finau told senators that ASDOE has only two compliance issues left to address to clear from “high risk” under USDOE grant funding.


The last two compliance issues are: Implementation of the LDS system and expansion of IFAS to school sites. She said ASDOE is looking at addressing these two issues before the end of the year.


Hunkin-Finau did remind senators that the whole ASG is “high risk” and even if ASDOE comes into full compliance other agencies or departments must also do the same in order for the “high risk” to be lifted. (Other agencies that get USDOE funding are the Health Department and the American Samoa Community College).


In its summary report to the IGIA meeting, USDOE says ASG could become effective in managing federal education funds and accomplishing programs in accordance with laws, regulations, and terms and conditions of the grants “through establishing and maintaining credible financial and data management systems and implementing effective internal controls.”


“A strong commitment and collaboration amongst various offices of the ASG, including the Governor’s Office, is essential to accomplishing these goals and resolving all CAP items,” the report says.


Samoa News Correspondent  Fili Sagapolutele contributed to this report.


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