Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that the House passed by a vote of H.R. 4568, the Interior Appropriations bill for FY 2005. Included is $23.1 million for American Samoa’s government operations and $10 million for capital improvement projects.
“Again, I want to thank my colleagues for voting in favor of this bill and for standing with the people of American Samoa,” Congressman Faleomavaega said. “The funds in the bill are $220 million below President Bush’s budget request and $257 million below the levels enacted for FY 2004.”
“In other words, key programs are underfunded as a result of tax cuts enacted over the last three years and also as our nation tries to pay for the war in Iraq. Given the dire circumstances our country is facing, I am thankful that my colleagues supported my efforts to keep American Samoa’s funding in place,” the Congressman said.
“American Samoa continues to be the only state or territory to receive funds from the federal government for purposes of providing for local government operations. In fact, the U.S. Congress sets aside about $23 million per year for ASG’s government operations and an additional $10 million for high priority or capital improvement projects.”
“In addition to this aid and, as a matter of record, from FY 1995- 2001 American Samoa received more than a billion dollars in federal aid. About 75% of these funds went directly to ASG and more than 90% of these funds were non-competitive. Put another way, ASG did not have to compete against other States or Territories for these funds. Instead, ASG only had to fill out the appropriate forms to claim these federal dollars.”
“Although many members of Congress have tried to take away our $23 million for government operations and $10 million for capital improvements projects, I have fought hard to keep our funding in place. I have also fought hard to make sure that the Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) consults more closely with our Territorial governments before enacting policy which directly affects us,” Congressman Faleomavaega said.
“The Office of Insular Affairs has proposed a new competitive grant formula for capital improvement grants whereby funding can be increased or reduced depending upon each territory’s performance in meeting proposed criteria for financial management and accountability. The OIA worked to include this language in today’s bill and the Committee report also indicates that the Secretary may use discretion to modify the funding formula to address court-ordered infrastructure projects.”
“On the House Floor today, I took exception to this language and reached an agreement with Republican Chairman Charles Taylor of the House Subcommittee on Interior Appropriations to include language in the conference report directing the OIA to work more closely with the Delegates and our Territorial Governments before this proposal goes into effect.”
“In the case of American Samoa,” the Congressman stated, “We are under no court-orders and we have also complied with a separate memorandum of understanding to put a fiscal reform plan in place. Our fiscal reform plan has been submitted and accepted by the Department of the Interior.”
“To my knowledge,” the Congressman continued, “the Office of Insular Affairs has not consulted with the Territorial Delegates or Governments regarding its proposal to change the nature of how our jurisdictions receive funding for capital improvement projects and I would like to believe we are equal branches of government.”
“For this reason alone, I opposed the OIA’s language and I expressed my deepest disappointment in the OIA’s failure to consult with the Territorial Delegates on matters which seriously affect the constituents we represent. While I appreciate the need for Territorial governments to be fiscally responsible, I stated on the House Floor that we cannot and must not excuse OIA’s disregard for the democratic process. OIA has failed to meet its obligation to work with the duly elected leaders of the Territories and I have noted this for the record.”
“I also stated during today’s debate that I would like to work with the Chairman and our Ranking Member to include language in the conference report to direct the Office of Insular Affairs to consult with the Delegates and the Territorial Governments for purposes of refining the criteria that will be used before this proposal goes into effect,” Congressman Faleomavaega said.
“I am pleased that Chairman Taylor agrees with me on this point. Chairman Taylor stated, ‘I support the Interior Department’s efforts to allocate construction funds based on financial performance. But I also agree with the distinguished Delegate from American Samoa that the Department should do a better job of consulting with Delegates and Territorial Governments, and I will work in conference to that end.’”
“I thank Chairman Taylor for supporting my efforts to make sure that the Delegates and Territorial Governments are seriously consulted on these important matters and I will be working closely with my colleagues on the language which will be included to direct the OIA to do a better job of working with us. At this time, I also thank Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo for taking a stand on this important issue.”
“Again, I thank our Democratic and Republican friends in the House for supporting American Samoa’s funding, especially at a time when our nation is at war and finances are strained. I am hopeful that we will also have the support of our friends in the Senate and that before the year ends the President will sign this bill into law,” the Congressman concluded.