CNMI Governor Questions, "Does the federal government have a problem with brown people?”

December 21, 2011

In an interview with the Marianas Variety, Governor Fitial claimed that the CNMI federal Medicaid cap is "unfair" and stated that Guam doesn't have a cap. (Every territory has a cap and local match.) He said, "Guam doesn’t have one…only us...does the federal government have a problem with brown people?”

The U.S. government may have many flaws, but racism is not one of them. I think that Governor Fitial may have forgotten that the President of the United States is "brown." Doesn't he know that there are "brown" people in Guam also? "Brown" people all over the United States? This just may be the most outrageous of many outrageous statements that the governor has made while in office!

Officials and federal employees in Washington, DC follow the antics of Fitial. He provides regular comic relief and is a source of entertainment for some in our nation's capital.  Of course, they are not directly impacted by his missteps and ignorant and racist remarks. However, I am sure that the people that he represents and those affected by his bizarre decisions, spin-off from outrageous statements and backlash from his constant attacks on the federal government are not laughing.

The outrageous statements did not stop there. For months there has been a debate concerning Governor Fitial's action to cut the hours of  federally-funded personnel to align with the cuts in his austerity program. Some of the employees are funded through grants that are overseen by the Department of the Interior, specifically the brown tree snake and coral reef initiatives. Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs Tony Babauta stated that the Solicitor General is reviewing the governor's action, since the grants fall under the authority of his office.

Other employees who have had their hours cut are funded under the federal Food Stamp Program. I can see no way that Governor Fitial has the authority to cut their hours. I would suggest that the federal government investigate the spending under this federal program to ensure that money is not being diverted to the CNMI government and away from the program and to ensure that the program is functioning at full capacity to provide the best service for its clients.

Fitial claimed that he was imposing the cut in hours on the employees who draw their salaries from federal funds to improve "morale" and in "fairness" to local government workers. Some federal officials have another take. Regarding DEQ/EPA grants, a spokesperson from the Federal Regional IX Council told the Variety:
It is important to point out that the vast majority of federal grants do not provide “up front” money.

Local governments must “advance” initial grant program operating money and as expenses are accrued the local grant manager submits invoices to a federal grant officer for approval and reimbursement; a continuous “spend and reimburse” feedback loop.

Numerous FRC department officials commented on the condition of anonymity that the lack of local funds to “advance” to the locally administered grant programs was the factual reason for applying austerity to fully federally funded employees.

“If money doesn’t get spent, it doesn’t get reimbursed by the granting agencies — simple as that,” was the common explanation.

Also in play is the possibility that since the NMI is establishing a lower baseline of used grant funding, the federal granting agencies will come back and award lower amounts for future grants.

Region IX grant officers stated this outcome was a distinct possibility considering the current push by Republicans to slash government spending in Washington, D.C.
Maybe the CNMI Government has no more pots to dip in to pay the personnel? It looks like someone has already taken money from the tax rebates and numerous other sources.

Fitial maintains that he has the authority to impose the 16-hour pay period reduction austerity measures on the federal-funded employees, while others argue that he does not. The Variety confirmed that the federal regional office has no knowledge of a written or verbal request for reprogramming DEQ/EPA grant funds.The governor countered that he had permission from Jared Blumenfeld at EPA:
“I have approval from Jared Blumenfeld at EPA. John McCarroll is dumb; he doesn’t know what he’s talking about…he just sits in the back of the meetings with his hands folded.”
A few weeks ago he called award-winning immigration attorneys "jerks". Yesterday he insulted EPA officials. I am sure these officials have already received numerous emails with links to Marianas Variety stories. Will the EPA be awarding future grants to a locale where the governor attacks the federal government, the funder, and the federal personnel?

The governor told the Variety:
“I have approval from Jared Blumenfeld at EPA…. John McCarroll is dumb; he doesn’t know what he’s talking about…he just sits in the back of the meetings with his hands folded.”
Previously Lt. Governor Inos told the Variety that the governor had received no written approval from grantors to cut the hours of the federally-funded employees at DEQ. So what is the truth?

Every federal grant has specific spending, reporting and accountability requirements, but all have some commonalities. As a grant writer and program manager who has received over $1 million in federal grant funds for my school and district programs that I oversee, I know that money can be shifted within a federal grant. Money can be moved from one line item to another after the grant recipient makes a formal request and justifies the reason by proving that it fulfills the goals of the grant and would be beneficial.  No budget shifts would be made if the grantor believed that it would hurt the implementation of the grant or impede the overall goals. He would not get permission from grantors to move federal funds to the CNMI government's coffers for unrelated expenses.

Still, what the governor is saying about having permission to move line items within a grant may be correct. He may have requested and received permission from Mr. Blumenfeld to shift funds from one line item to another, but I am sure this would require formal paperwork.  If the governor has such written approval why wouldn't he show it to reporters and affected personnel to stop the debate?

Another problem I see is that when applying for a grant, the salaries have to be justified. The applicant and funder would have to agree on how many employees are needed to carryout the duties to implement the grant. If the governor is saying that the grant can be carried out with less employees or employees working less hours, then next time the CNMI applies, it may not get funding for as many employees or full time employees.

The EPA primarily has concentrated efforts on EPA violations that CUC has accumulated as a result of illegal disposal of waste oil and other problems. The agency also increased the CNMI's wastewater and infrastructure funds from $268,800 to $5.17 million and the CNMI's drinking water infrastructure funds from $764,000 to $6.1 million.  Of course, trained personnel is required to oversee the funds and related projects.

It is difficult to evaluate this debate since like all Fitial dealings, this is cloaked and secretive. If he is telling the truth, he merely has to produce the letter from Jared Blumenfeld granting permission to cut hours. (Contact information for EPA Region 9 District Administrator Blumenfeld is on this webpage.) Fitial should also produce documentation stating that he has permission to apply austerity hours to any other federally-funded employees, such as those under the Food Stamp Program. Perhaps he has no documentation or enjoys the debate and controversy.


It's not your money! said...

No problem with brown people, guv, only with stupid, crooked people like you. Even the Carolinians are ashamed that one of their own is such a loudmouthed moron. Federalization is not the problem; Fitialization is the problem.

Wendy Doromal said...

It's not your money

Brilliant comment. I may just steal your Fitialization line -love it!

Nani, Boboy and I wish you a very happy holiday.

Anonymous said...

Government officials may be having a good laugh but some of the wasted Federal taxpayer dollars in the CNMI is no laughing matter. DFW, DEQ, CRM are a few Federally Funded agencies that need clipping. They all basically do the same thing yet are taxpayer funded. Hidden away from Federal Government eyes these agencies do almost nothing and employ way too many people who almost always take Monday off. Check it ou.

Anonymous said...

"Fitialization is the problem". I love it!

Anonymous said...

Fitialization: you asked for it; you got it.

Anonymous said...