Where Did the USCIS Educational Fund Fees Go?

February 10, 2013

One more red flag has been raised regarding the CNMI's flawed guest worker program.  U.S. Public Law 110-229, the Consolidated Natural Resources Act (CNRA), called for the education of U.S. workers.  A fee of $150 for every alien hired is collected and designated under the law for the purpose of vocational program development and training. The intent of the provision was to help the local population obtain the skills that they need to perform the jobs that are currently being held by foreign workers.

From the CNRA:
SEC. 6. IMMIGRATION AND TRANSITION. (a) Application of the Immigration and Nationality Act and Establishment of a Transition Program 
(6) CERTAIN EDUCATION FUNDING- In addition to fees charged pursuant to section 286(m) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1356(m)) to recover the full costs of providing adjudication services, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall charge an annual supplemental fee of $150 per nonimmigrant worker to each prospective employer who is issued a permit under subsection (d) of this section during the transition period. Such supplemental fee shall be paid into the Treasury of the Commonwealth government for the purpose of funding ongoing vocational educational curricula and program development by Commonwealth educational entities.
To date USCIS has reportedly remitted $1.8 million the the CNMI Treasury. USCIS remitted a check for $22,000 in December 2011 and then later in the month issued a transfer of $400,000 to the CNMI government.

At the time the December 2011 transfer of funds was received, The Saipan Tribune reported:
The money is supposed to be used by the CNMI to train U.S. workers who will fill the void left by foreign workers who left or will leave the Commonwealth. Most private sector jobs are held by foreign workers, while government jobs are mostly held by U.S. workers.  
The fiscal year 2012 budget law requires at least $500,000 of this fee to go to PSS. But Inos said the administration has yet to provide money to either PSS or NMC out of the education funding fee that employers started paying since October for each foreign worker they hire. 
“We are going to sit down with them, ask them for a spending plan or how they are going to use it. It's a standard thing.”  
Inos, who oversees government finances, said after the administration receives and approves PSS and NMC's spending plan, they will be later on asked to report how they actually used the money.
In the first week of February 2012, Inos announced that USCIS had already remitted $1.652 million to the CNMI Treasury. At the time of the announcement Saipan Chamber of Commerce preident, Douglas Brennan was quoted by The Saipan Tribune as saying:
“I hope the CNMI government will really use the money for its intended purpose-to train our children and residents to become effective members of the workforce.” 
Later in the same month the Lt. Governor stated that an additional remittance from USCIS was received by the CNMI Treasury, making the total amount received for the educational fund $1.8 million.

From a February 18, 2012 Saipan Tribune article, $1.8 million from 12,000 CW applications remitted to the CNMI:
Specifically, the funds will go to the Public School System and Northern Marianas College to help with their vocational education and training programs and boost the local labor pool. 
The CNMI’s fiscal year 2012 budget also requires at least $500,000 of the CW education funding fee to go to PSS. 
Inos said the Public School System has yet to provide a spending plan to the administration, thus no money can be released to PSS out of the CW account. 
“We didn't give them a timeline. If they need the money for that purpose, they're going to give us a spending plan. We cannot use the money for anything else. The cash is not mingled,” Inos added.
In March 2012 the Public School System announced that it would be using its share of $500,000 to pay salaries of "career technological teachers" and to subsidize materials for the program. I have no idea what a CTE instructor teaches or what the program entails. Apparently at least one board member expressed concerns.  From The Saipan Tribune:
At a recent meeting, board member Galvin Deleon Guerrero expressed concern about the system's ability to track the effectiveness of the CTE programs. 
“The CW revenue is really intended to help transition the CNMI into federal labor force. I know we have standard-based assessments but I think we need to begin demonstrating how effective our program is in terms of actual job placement,” he said. 
Deleon Guerrero said that PSS and the board should also conduct other assessments such as actual workforce readiness, workforce effectiveness assessment, employer's satisfaction survey, and job retention, among others, to gauge the effectiveness of these vocational and technical programs.
The Public Schools System (PSS), The Northern Marianas College (NMC) and private institutions, such as the Northern Marianas Trade Institute (NMTI), are all vying for a share of the funds. But there appears to be no real plan to account for the expenditure of the funds or to even see that they receive any. If there is a plan, then it is extremely fluid and unmonitored.

This month Tinian Representative Trenton Conner stated that the $500,000 was never transferred to PSS. Additionally, he reported that last year Governor Fitial line item vetoed the $500,000 designated for the NMTI.

The Marianas Variety reported of the $1.8 million collected "only $1 million has been appropriated." The vague story did not say when or where the money was appropriated. The question remains where has the money gone, and who is monitoring the programs that receive the funds to ensure that the funds are being properly spent and the programs are successful?

Rep. Conner has drafted House Bill 18-13 to require that the federal funds be deposited into a special account to be spent as mandated under federal law.  His bill proposes "30 percent for technical education program; 50 percent for vocational education programs at Northern Marianas College; and 20 percent for the Office of the Governor for other government and private sector vocational education and job training programs."

There should be an annual audit and report to show how much money is taken in, what programs receive funds, and a full evaluation of each program that is funded, including how many local workers successfully completed training programs, were placed in jobs, employer satisfaction, and the job retention rate.

Why is this program so loose and seemingly unmonitored? Why aren't funds that are received immediately dispersed so that the intent of the mandate can be fulfilled? For all we know the $1 million could have been spent in unrelated areas.


Anonymous said...

Almost guaranteed that this money WAS spent in other unrelated areas.
I sure hope that this gets looked into by the Feds. and that maybe this will put Fitial(and others) into an orange jumpsuit.

Anonymous said...

It is no new news for CNMI that Feds money is misspent to unrelated areas. Where did the Fee go? How many local residents are getting this benifit? Is someone in CNMI gov't responsible to the objective of this fee? I guess CNMI gov't want someone to tell them an idean how the best way they can use this fee or money is locked up forgood? Feds could give this money directly to PSS, NMC, MTII with a spending plan in advance. But it did not happen. Just wait and see what progresses are made with this fee. Anything in CNMI is possible.