GAO Insular Findings

July 17, 2010

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report, American Samoa: Performing a Risk Assessment Would Better Inform U.S. Agencies of the Risks Related to Acceptance of Certificates of Identity, that evaluates the territory's customs and immigration program and any security risks it poses to American Samoa and the United States.

GAO recommended that a risk assessment be conducting stating:
American Samoa and U.S. government agencies report that American Samoa’s operations of its customs and immigration programs may pose risks to American Samoa and the rest of the United States, but U.S. agencies have not conducted a risk assessment. Regarding customs, potential risks to American Samoa are lost revenues and the possible aiding of criminal activities. While the Customs Division has written policies and procedures to govern duties and responsibilities, American Samoa and U.S. law enforcement officials are concerned that American Samoa Customs officials have accepted bribes for improperly inspecting containers, which could result in lost tax revenues. American Samoan and U.S. officials have identified no concerns to the rest of the United States from American Samoa’s operations of its customs program. Regarding immigration, the principal concern to American Samoa is that current enforcement practices of immigration laws have led to the potential for alien exploitation and human trafficking. The American Samoa legislature is proposing changes that may address these issues, but it is too soon to tell what impact these changes, if passed, will have. U.S. officials state that the potential risk to the rest of the United States from American Samoa’s current immigration operations is illegal immigration into the rest of the United States as a result of travelers obtaining false documentation, such as a CI, in American Samoa. While Department of State officials are aware of allegations of illegal immigration from aliens fraudulently obtaining CIs, and are working with law enforcement officials in American Samoa on an ongoing investigation into such allegations, this investigation will address the security of the process for obtaining U.S. passports and will not address the reported vulnerabilities in the process for issuing CIs. U.S. agencies have not performed a risk assessment to determine the threat, vulnerabilities, and consequences associated with aliens using false documents to travel to the rest of the United States from American Samoa. Performing a risk assessment could better position U.S. agencies to understand the extent of threats, vulnerabilities, and consequences associated with the use of CIs, and better inform decisions on which documents would be considered acceptable for those wishing to travel to the rest of the United States from American Samoa.
The report stated that both DHS and the Departments of State and Interior agreed with GAO's recommendation.

American Samoa is the last U.S. territory that retains local control over customs and immigration. I predict that after the risk assessment is completed U.S. immigration law will be applied to American Samoa, as it was to the CNMI.

Samoan newspapers tell the stories of immigration fraud, bribes, falsified documents by officials, and cases of human trafficking.

Hearing on IAO's Technical Assistance Program for Insular Grants
CNMI Governor Fitial and Commerce Secretary Michael Ada attended the House Natural Resources Committee, Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife Hearing , "Technical Assistance Program: Evaluating Its Ability to Meet the Needs of the Insular Areas" in Washington, DC yesterday. (Watch the video of the hearing.)

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) testimony by Anu K. Mttial, Natural Resources and Environment Team director revealed that there are internal control weaknesses in grants given by the DOI to Insular areas. She stated:
The Department of the Interior, through its Office of Insular Affairs (OIA), provides approximately $400 million annually in financial assistance to insular area governments roughly $70 million of which is awarded annually as grants to insular areas for capital improvement projects, operations and maintenance improvement projects, technical assistance, and other purposes, to increase the self-sufficiency of the insular areas. For example, technical assistance grants are used to conduct feasibility studies or train government staff. 
Although OIA grants are essential in supporting insular areas’ economies, we and others including Interior’s Office of Inspector General—have had long-standing concerns with insular area governments’ internal control weaknesses, which increase the risk of fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement. These internal control weaknesses have been documented in several reports between 2000 and 2009.

...If federal agencies do not use effective internal control activities, or have weaknesses in their internal controls, they can increase the risk of potential mismanagement or misuse and waste of grant funds.
You may also want to read Secretary of Commerce, Michael Ada's testimony, Charlene A. Leizear, Director of the OIA's Technical Assistance Division's testimony, and the testimony of Dr. David Hall, President of the University of the Virgin Islands.


Anonymous said...

The CNMI is "elementary school" compared to American Samoa's corruption.
The A. Samoan is more educated, most employees have Matai (head of clan)or a Chief title and can skirt most of the US laws.
This goes with the legislature etc.
They are experts in manipulating the US Govt and Hawaii's senators' Inue and Akaka to get them what they want (pork) in the form of grants and money for projects that do not happen. Most are useless and only the money goes into other things or someones pockets.

While I worked for that Govt.I saw and inadvertantly was involved with so many things that I could write a book on.
The Immigration is another interesting area.
Western Samoa (an independent nation) is close by,(about 60 naut. miles) same names, same language, but at that time the average wage was about equivalent to $1.50 a day.
This place has much natural resources and manufacturing.
Almost all of the A.Samoans have "illegal" W. Samoan workers, they "brought in" to take care of their houses, children, and "plantations" living in shanties in the "jungles" they make out of plywood given to them.They occasionally will be "thrown" some money, but never really paid.

Customs is involved with drugs and other illicit cargo along with many other things.

The Samoan Visitor Bureau makes MVA look like a well organized organization.
Later some pertinent stories.

Anonymous said...

This explains a lot, particularly the "projection" by David Barrett Cohen of similar goings on in the CNMI.

Not that the CNMI doesn't have many similar problems, as all readers of this blog will be aware. But the CNMI was making steady and significant progress in these areas from 2002 to 2007.

The only thing that changed during this time was political control of Congress. So then-Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Cohen flip-flopped and had a sudden "revelation" that workers were being abused.

This would be fine, if true, but the depth of his perfidious mendacity is proven through the lies he had to place on the Congressional Record.

The most egregious was that the successful CNMI Office of Refugee Protection, run by dedicated and committed human rights lawyers like Arin Greenwood, Dana Emery, and Melissa Simms were under the thumb of and influenced by the People's Republic of China!

All this time the ORP was working closely with DHS asylum personnel. When Interior and David B. Cohen tried to interfere in the operation of the ORP, he had the gall to accuse the ORP and claim it "astonishing" that the lawyers would stand up for their judicial independence and resist Cohen's attempts to pull strings and unbalance the scales of justice.

This was one of the most unethical acts taken by any lawyer in the history of the CNMI. No wonder this political abuse, this raw exercise of power, is not giving the Unity Marchers the salvation they hoped for.

The house of Public Law 110-229 is built on sand, or worse.

Anonymous said...

Noni 12:18 -- LOL. Are you serious?

You said, "the CNMI was making steady and significant progress" from 2002 to 2007. Be honest. MAYBE there was steady and significant progress from 2002 to 2005. Then Ben Fitial came into office in 2006, and brought with him yes-men AG's like M. Gregory, G. Baka, and E. Buckingham and things pretty much went to hell in a handbasket between the CNMI and the feds. All that steady and significant progress - promptly undone, erased, reversed, gone, kaput, wa-la!

You said, "The only thing that changed during this time was political control of Congress." Uh, no. Another thing changed during this time, and this made more of a difference: the CNMI changed governors. The new governor denied the abuses, refused to share information, threw tantrums with the feds, shouted at legal alien workers who were peacefully protesting to "go home," and told members of U.S. congress during a field hearing that he was going to deport them. Way to go, Ben!

If anyone lied on the record and demonstrated "perfidious mendacity," it was Ben. Not David. If anyone is lying right now and slandering a good man with "perfidious mendacity," filling this blog with nonsense and blather, it's YOU.

I will forever admire Mr. Cohen for his efforts to listen to all sides during some very contentious debates, and for somehow keeping a level head in his dealings with the CNMI. I will also always be glad that he did not hold the astonishingly brash stupidity of our government officials against us.

Unity Marchers still hold Mr. Cohen in very high regard. Can't say the same about ANYONE in this administration, past or present.

Anonymous said...

Any member of the Ben Fitial administration, from the well intended to the sleezy, will forever have a question mark attached to their integrity.