Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that the House Committee on Interior Appropriations approved $22,880,000 for American Samoa Government operations which is an increase of $110,000 above the fiscal year 2006 level. The Committee also approved $10,543 million for Capital Improvement Projects (CIPs) which is an increase of $543,000 over the baseline funding for 2006.
“At this time, ASG continues to be the only government that receives a direct appropriation from Congress for the operations of its government,” Faleomavaega said. “However, the Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) has designated American Samoa as high risk and, as such, the Committee has included language in this year’s report that urges greater accountability of federal funds.” The report language is as follows:
The Committee continues to be concerned about accountability for key Federal grants to American Samoa. The Secretary should enhance the inter-departmental, coordinated approach to oversight of all Federal grants awarded to American Samoa. The Committee is encouraged by recent developments by the American Samoa Government (ASG) to control and limit Federal grants. The Committee also encourages the OIA to ensure that single audits are completed in a timely fashion and that the information contained therein is widely available to all branches of the territorial government. The OIA should consider requiring the American Samoa government to complete its capital investment plan for a 5-year duration, and include specific targets for the three main sectors of health, education and other government needs. The OIA should require a prioritized list of items needed by the ASG next year, and this list should be developed in an open fashion with the territorial government.
After expressing concern about the accountability of federal funds, the Committee also weighed in on the recent proposal to construct a McDonald’s at Utulei Beach. The report language is as follows:
The Committee encourages the American Samoa government to not allow commercial development of waterfront areas of Utulei Beach Park because this site has such high recreational and natural values, and it has enjoyed funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund Program which indicates that this park land should be dedicated to public outdoor recreational use in perpetuity.
“While it is unfortunate that construction of a new McDonald’s in our Territory has received Congressional attention and while it is worrisome that the US Congress has taken notice that ASG received federal funds to preserve Utulei Beach but is not being accountable for those funds, I am hopeful that our local leaders and McDonald’s will do the right thing and favorably resolve the issue before us,” Faleomavaega said.
“Again, I applaud the many valuable contributions McDonald’s has made in American Samoa and I am also confident the people of American Samoa will appreciate, support and welcome another McDonald’s in any location other than Utulei Beach. But the fact is Utulei Beach is a federally protected park area and, by contractual agreement, cannot be used for any commercial purpose. Therefore, the current proposal to construct a McDonald’s within a federally protected park area is a potential violation of ASG’s agreement with the US National Park Service (NPS) and, as such, is an issue that has escalated into a federal problem that must be expeditiously resolved.”
“With respect to our CIP funds, I commend our local government for earning an increase of $543,000 over our baseline funding of $10,000,000. Beginning with FY 2005, OIA implemented a new competitive allocation system for CIP grants and ASG earned an increase to our baseline funding because it scored above the average of the insular areas on the 11 criteria defined by OIA.”
“With respect to our operations funding which the Committee has approved at $22,880,000, OIA will award a portion of this funding directly to specific operations in order to better track ASG General Operations. Recipients of these funds include ASCC, the Department of Education, LBJ Hospital Operations, LBJ Pharmaceuticals and Medical Supplies, and the High Court. I am hopeful that by awarding these funds directly, we will see improvements especially in education and health care.”
“To date, on a per capita basis, American Samoa continues to receive more federal education funding per pupil than any other State or Territory. Our health care funding has also doubled and recently we were able to significantly increase our Medicaid funding. With the amount of support and funding we continue to receive from Congress, I am convinced if there is better accountability of federal funds we will see significant improvements in this Territory.”
“In this process, I am pleased that the Committee included my request to set aside $500,000 of the $22,880,000 for physical education activities at schools. Our public schools lack adequate facilities, equipment and personnel to provide quality health and education programs which are critical to the physical, mental, and social development of our students. However, with this funding, I am hopeful that our local DOE will have the support it needs to purchase equipment and establish sports programs for the benefit of our children.”
“While this bill now moves to the House floor for vote on Thursday, I will continue to work with my colleagues, both Republicans and Democrats, to make sure American Samoa continues to receive the federal support and funding it needs. In turn, I am hopeful that our local government will provide better accountability and I commend ASG for the progress it is making,” Congressman Faleomavaega concluded.