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Senators frustrated over ARRA
WITH the deadline to obligate American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds meant for school repairs and improvements just two months away, the Guam Department of Education came under fire last night at the Legislature during a roundtable meeting on ARRA funds.
During the meeting, several senators voiced their frustration over several matters related to GDOE’s ARRA funding and procurement process.
Earlier this month, GDOE sought the assistance of Gov. Eddie Calvo to submit a second extension request to the U.S. Department of Education for the remaining unobligated ARRA funds.
According to the timeline discussed during last night’s meeting, ARRA funds were already available to GDOE since 2010 and solicitations for several capital improvement projects, or CIPs, went out during the consecutive years.
According to GDOE Superintendent Jon Fernandez, the department has around $50 million in capital improvement projects. And of that portion, around $22 million still needs to be obligated.
“But over the next two weeks, we anticipate moving forward with a large portion of that and start the procurement process. We still have two and half months to go through, so we feel confident that we can obligate more funding before the Sept. 30 deadline. But there still may be a portion that we want the extension in place for,” Fernandez said.
Vice Speaker BJ Cruz expressed his frustration over the absence of GDOE staff during a recent procurement seminar organized for GovGuam employees. Cruz had requested GDOE to consider contacting GCC on the possibility of putting up procurement modules for GDOE staff.
“It is imperative that we stop committing the same errors,” Cruz emphasized.
Another question raised during the meeting was the role of third party fiduciary agents in ensuring efficiency in the procurement processes of the department.
For her part, Sen. Aline Yamashita raised a concern about the guidance provided by the third party fiduciary agents in ensuring efficiency in the procurement processes at GDOE. She questioned the cost associated with funding the fiduciary agents, which amounts to $4 million, when the department is still “having these issues.”
Fernandez responded by explaining the purpose for hiring third party fiduciary agents for the department: “They are there to assist us and to guide us in building our internal capacity to deal with the procurement, to deal with managing our finances, and our federal funding. What they can’t really do is simplify the procurement process. They are helping us to make sure that we comply.”
Despite the initial negative reactions from the senators present at the meeting, the GDOE team reported several improvements to the department’s ARRA-funded projects.
For instance, GDOE Deputy Superintendent Taling Taitano reported improvements in several CIPs funded by ARRA grants, including the recent contract signed for the repairs of the Southern High School Fine Arts Auditorium – a project costing $3.7 million to complete. She said a pre-construction conference was recently held with contractors and the department is just waiting for a notice to proceed with the project.
In addition, a total of $2.4 million has been obligated for the renovation of 17 Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) classrooms at George Washington High School.
With the Southern High School Gym, procurement documents are already in the process of being completed in time for submission to legal counsel for review. GDOE is working to get the contract out this week, according to Taitano.
School roofing projects with a total allocation of $8.9 million were delayed due to bidder protests lodged at the Office of Public Accountability. However, Taitano said, the final decision was in favor of GDOE.
In closing, Fernandez said he is hopeful the ARRA extension request will be granted by the USDOE, stating: “I’ve been in conversation with the USDOE since the past three months before I was officially on board just to get a sense of what the issues are. We have been encouraged to apply for an extension.”
He added: “I know they are hoping we can get this obligated as soon as possible. I think we just have to demonstrate that we are well along the way and that we are using the funds for its intended purposes. But I am very optimistic and I am very hopeful that they will get us the extension.”