Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that the House and Senate have passed H.R. 2764, the FY 2008 Omnibus Appropriations bill which includes language offered by Faleomavaega to give the Fono a say in selecting what capitol improvement projects should be funded in American Samoa. The bill also includes language from Faleomavaega urging the Department of the Interior to consider the need for water system improvements in Manu’a especially Ofu-Olosega and Ta’u-Faleasao villages.
“American Samoa receives about $10 million per year for capitol improvement projects but, for too long, the Fono especially has not had much of a say in determining how these funds should be spent,” Faleomavaega said. “With passage of this bill, the Office of Insular Affairs is now required to work with all territorial governmental bodies including the Fono, the Governor’s office, and the office of the Congressional Delegate in selecting and funding projects. The Office of Insular Affairs is also required to implement an open, transparent, and fair process to be sure the highest priority construction projects receive funding.”
“As a matter of practice, I have always respected the role of the local government and have never interfered with ASG’s decisions in determining how these funds should be utilized except in cases of emergency when I set aside $2 million for urgently needed medicines at LBJ. This year, however, it became clear that the Office of Insular Affairs and ASG are earmarking money prior to Congress or the Fono having a say, and this is not the way CIP funds were intended to be disbursed.”
“For example, this year, the Governor’s office and the Office of Insular Affairs set aside $3 million of our $10 million in CIP funds for fiber optics,” the Congressman said. “However, before one-third of our CIP funds were set aside for this purpose, there should have been an open discussion that it would cost approximately $20 million or more to make fiber optics a reality in our territory. The bottom line is I do not believe the Fono has really had a chance to hold oversight hearings and thoroughly review the overall costs of the fiber optics project and how ASG intends to fully finance the project.”
“As a result of the language that has now been included in this year’s appropriations bill, I am hopeful that we will not encounter further problems like this. In fact, I am hopeful that the Governor’s office and the Fono will work more closely together in defining high priority projects for American Samoa.”
“Again, I support fiber optics and I am fully committed to working with our local leaders to find ways to fund this project. About two years ago, I wrote a letter to our Governor and introduced a fiber optic cable company that was interested to bring fiber optic system to our territory. Nevertheless, it will be up to the Governor and the Fono to discuss the use of CIP funds in the upcoming years as a result of the new language included in this year’s appropriations bill.”
To be specific, the language states:
The amended bill agrees with the House report concerning the requirement that the Office of Insular Affairs and the Secretary of the Interior work with all territorial governmental bodies and the Congressional Delegate for American Samoa to be sure the highest priority construction projects receive the funding and that an open, transparent, and fair process be implemented in selecting capital improvement projects in American Samoa. In addition, the Department should consider the needs for water system improvements, such as Ofu-Olosega and Ta’u-Faleasao water systems in Manu’a.
“At this time, I want to thank the conferees in the House and Senate for accepting the language I introduced which also includes a suggestion that the Department of the Interior seriously consider addressing the needs for water system improvements in Manu’a. In the past ten years, ASG has received over $100 million in CIP funds but our water systems in Manu’a are still inadequate. For this reason, I am hopeful that the Office of Insular Affairs will review this situation immediately and follow-up with Congress on what next steps need to be taken to rectify this problem.”
“Finally, I want to thank our friends in the House and Senate for continuing to set aside over $10 million annually for CIP funds and $23 million annually for the operations of American Samoa’s government. In a time of war and significant budget constraints, I am pleased that Congress has supported our efforts to keep these funds in place although President Bush has cut Interior funding across the board by 1.56% including funding for American Samoa.”
“The House first passed H.R. 2764, the FY 2008 Omnibus Appropriations bill, on Monday December 17, 2007. On December 18, 2007, the Senate passed the bill by a vote of 76-17 but amended it to add Iraq War money. The bill came back to the House and was passed on December 19, 2007 by a vote of 272-142. Again, I thank my colleagues for supporting American Samoa’s funding and I thank our people for their faith and prayers,” Faleomavaega concluded.