Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that by a vote of 410 to 10 the House passed H.R. 2361, the Interior Appropriations bill for FY 2006.
“The bill includes almost $33 million for American Samoa. Of these funds, $23,110,000 has been marked for American Samoa Government (ASG) operations,” the Congressman said, “and this is an increase of $331,000 above the fiscal year 2005 level.”
“I am pleased that American Samoa continues to be the only state or territory to receive federal funds for the operations of its local government and, at a time when our nation faces serious budget cuts to fund the war on terror, I am pleased that my colleagues supported my request to keep our operations funds in place. Of these funds, $2 million will be set aside for the purchase of urgently needed medicines and supplies as the Governor and I agreed,” Faleomavaega said.
“American Samoa will also receive an additional $9,542,000 for construction and capitol improvement projects. Also included in the conference report is language concerning accountability of federal funds. As I reported earlier, Congress is concerned with the way federal dollars are being managed in American Samoa.”
“As a follow-up to a promise I made during the 2002 elections, Congressman Nick Rahall, Ranking Member of the House Resources Committee, and I called for a GAO study to look at foreign investment in American Samoa and its impact on local businesses. In response to this request, the GAO sent a team to American Samoa to review this request and found that American Samoa’s Department of Commerce does not keep a clear and accurate record of foreign versus local investment.”
“According to the GAO, the Department of Commerce’s records are vague,” the Congressman said, “and, as such, the GAO focused on American Samoa’s use of federal funds. Like other States and Territories, there are serious problems in the way that federal funds are managed in American Samoa and, as I have said before, I am hopeful that the GAO’s report will provide a base from which our local government can make improvements.”
“While I want to emphasize that other States and Territories also have problems, the GAO has provided our local leaders with a report that can be used to make necessary changes for the benefit of our people. Congress has also now weighed in on the matter with the following statement in the Conference Report for FY 2006 Interior Appropriations. The report states:
The Committee has reviewed recent work by the GAO concerning accountability for key Federal grants to American Samoa. Through Presidential delegation, the Secretary of the Interior exercises ultimate control and responsibility for, and has authority to take a proactive role in, the administration of the Territory of American Samoa. The Committee urges the Secretary to use this authority to coordinate with all Federal agencies that award funds to American Samoa and to encourage the other agencies to consider designating American Samoa a high-risk grantee under the Grants Management Common Rule. A coordinated approach to designation could include a basic set of special conditions to be applied by all Federal grant awarding agencies to grants to American Samoa. The designation could also include a basic set of corrective actions that American Samoa must take, including earning clean single audit opinions for two consecutive years before the special conditions are removed.
“As your Congressman, my job is to make sure American Samoa gets its fair share of federal dollars,” the Congressman said. “The role of the local government is to manage our federal dollars. Locally, our federal funds must be managed in a way that benefits the Territory and especially improves our education and health care systems. Congress will continue to take an active interest in this issue because American Samoa has received over one billion dollars in federal aid from 1995-2001.”
“Regarding education, American Samoa receives more federal education funding on a per capita basis than any other state or territory. Federal funding for health care is up 50% and, on a per capita basis, American Samoa continues to receive more federal funding than almost any other State or Territory.”
“These are the facts and Congress is focused on making sure our federal funds are used for their intended purposes. Governor Togiola has inherited a government in need of change and I believe he is committed to making the necessary improvements that will bring about a greater accountability of how federal funds are managed in the Territory. I also believe our Fono is taking a more active role in investigating the misappropriation of federal funds and I commend the Fono for its efforts.”
“At this time, I also wish to mention that the conference report includes provisions providing $1.5 billion to remedy the shortfall in veterans' health care for this year. The $1.5 billion is a long-delayed victory for America's veterans, and is a key first step to begin to fulfill our moral obligation to our veterans and returning soldiers. This victory for veterans waiting in line for health care came about because Democrats and Republicans stood shoulder to shoulder with veterans' organizations to make sure that veterans got the benefits they deserved.”
“Again, 410 Members of the U.S. Congress voted in favor of this bill. In other words, it takes Democrats and Republicans to get the job done and this is why true public servants work together for the good of all. As your Representative in Washington, I will continue to work with my colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans, to make sure that American Samoa continues to receive our fair share of federal funding, and that our veterans and returning soldiers get the benefits they deserve. With your support and prayers, and by working together rather than against each other, I remain confident that we can make a difference for American Samoa now and for generations to come,” the Congressman concluded.