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U.S. Comptroller General to evaluate territories revenues and expenditures

The Comptroller General of the United States will evaluate a forecast of revenues and expenditures of the governments of American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands, according to a provision of the Omnibus Territories Act of 2013 now before a U.S. Senate committee for review and consideration.


Following the evaluation, the Comptroller General will then submit a report to the appropriate committees of the U.S. Congress, the bill states.


In written testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources holding a hearing on the bill last week, DOI Acting Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas, Eileen Sobeck, said this provision of the bill calls for the governors of the territories to submit a report on the process for developing annual estimates of the government’s revenues and expenditures and any supporting documents and schedules, to appropriate committees of the Congress and the Comptroller General.


The Comptroller General is also required to submit a report evaluating the reasonableness of those estimates and if necessary submit recommendations for improving the processes for developing the estimates to appropriate committees of the Congress.


Sobeck said the DOI has issued statements over the years  that all the territories “have had difficulty with rising debt due to problematic budgeting processes” and this provision of the bill “would provide a framework for studying the budget processes of the territories”.


“Because the governors of each of the territories would be so intimately involved, the Department of the Interior defers to the opinions of the governors of each of the United States territories with regard to this provision,” she said.


There was no indication in the online records of the hearing if the committee will seek statements from governors of the U.S. territories.


There have also been calls by lawmakers in past years for a conclusive review of the ASG revenue projection process, in order for the Fono to get a clearer picture on the actual financial condition of the government.


Samoa News should point out that over the last eight years, the Fono has always had questions on how ASG comes up with its revenue forecast and expenditures for the annual budget. This is expected to be the same issue raised during the (yet to be scheduled) budget hearings for the new fiscal year, 2014.


Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga told lawmakers in January this year that annual revenue projections will be developed collaboratively by the Office of Budget and Planning, Department of Treasury (including the Tax Office and Customs), Department of Commerce, and the Governor’s Office.


He said the results will be approved and documented separately for presentation to the Legislature of American Samoa. The approved Revenue Forecast will then be given to the Office of Planning and Budget for the preparation of the annual budget to be submitted to the Legislature.