Federal high risk designation is still “haunting” the government, says Gov.
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — With the “high risk” designation still “haunting” the government when it comes to federal grants, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has re-established an entity within the Governor’s Office to address all compliance issues required by federal grantors.
Speaking at last Thursday’s cabinet meeting the governor pointed out that the most important issue between the American Samoa Government and the feds is the high risk designation, which he says “has been a challenge” since the Lolo Administration took the helm of local government in 2013.
“And up until today we haven’t really found a solution to take care of this issue. It is haunting us as we move forward, because as long as we have federal grants, as long as we do not comply with the policies, we are subject to the high risk on the federal grants we receive,” he told cabinet members at the Gov. H. Rex Lee Auditorium.
The governor in an executive order in 2013, established within his office, the Office of Grants Oversight and Accountability, headed by Jerome Ierome, overseeing several ASG matter, such as federal grants compliance and high risk.
However, in April of last year, the governor made changes and he appointed Arona Maiava as administrator of the office, while Ierome was given other responsibilities within the same office. At the same time, both Ierome and Maiava shared the position of Coordinator of the ASG High Risk Task Force — which is made up of ASG officials.
At last Thursday’s cabinet meeting, the governor said Maiava was brought in to further assist ASG with the high risk issues and “it was good for a short period of time.” The governor didn’t elaborate as to what happened to Maiava, but he did note that Ierome (who had been on personal leave) has returned after being away for family matters.
Lolo announced the reestablishment of the previous office (from 2013) as the Office of Grants Management, which will focus on high risk areas such as education, health, and all ASG offices which receive federal grants and need compliance assistance with their operation.
Lolo then announced the appointment of Ierome to head the office, saying Ierome will be working and dealing with directors “in terms of federal grants, managing grants, addressing high risk issues in our government to make sure that we are being taken care of, as we move forward with utilization of federal grants in our government.”
Lolo asked cabinet members to offer their support when called upon by Ierome, who reports directly to the governor and Lt. Gov. Lemanu Palepoi Sialega Mauga.
Some in the private sector and government have questioned whether the Lolo Administration will ever manage to remove the high risk designation, which goes back 10 years ago, although some progress has been made so far.
An ASG official, responding to Samoa News questions, said over the weekend that the governor “is committed to removing our high risk status before he leaves office.”
“Our major high risk contributor is our financial system. We invested $2 million to upgrade our financial system to OneSolution,” said the official who is involved in high risk matters, adding that, Treasury Department just received over $496,000 from the US Department of Interior to conduct other systems upgrades.
In a news release last week, USDOI announced more than $1.64 million in FY 2018 grant funding for American Samoa. Among the projects funded are two for Treasury Department: $200,200 to — among other things — finalize improvements and upgrade to the financial management system; and $296,000 to develop a disaster recovery plan for the financial management system.
In his 2018 State of the Territory Comprehensive Report to the Fono early this year, the governor noted that the ASG High Risk Task Force has been very diligent in preparing and submitting semi-annual reports to the feds as pursuant to ASG’s mandated corrective action plan.
He explained that some of the other high risk issues have also been resolved resulting in the elimination of high risk status for some of the government agencies such as the Criminal Justice Planning Agency, Department of Human and Social Services, and others.
Additionally, the installation of the One-Solution financial system addresses many of the high-risk issues related to proper accounting and recording of all grant related expenditures.
Furthermore, ASG has made significant progress with the installation of the Paperless System to improve further compliance with the established procurement process and to properly reflect these transactions on the American Samoa Government’s financials.
Some lawmakers are expected to — again — raise questions on the status of the high risk designation when the Fono conducts FY 2019 budget hearings — which are not yet scheduled.