Friday, November 20, 2009

Guam's 'Buildup & Beyond' Forum: A Fit Foray Into Impacts, Benefits & Challenges

Guam's 'Buildup & Beyond' Forum: A Fit Foray Into Impacts, Benefits & Challenges

Written by Jeff Marchesseault, Guam News Factor Staff Writer
Friday, 20 November 2009 20:12

GUAM - On Friday a two-day conference called The Military Buildup And Beyond: The Guam Perspective wrappred up at the Legislature. Hosted by Buildup Committee Chair Senator Judi Guthertz and the University of Guam, the free-admission conference was designed to empower local voices and perspectives on how the civilian community will be impacted, benefited, and challenged by the armed forces expansion.

Reality Check

The conference sounds the alarm that Guam needs to wake up and be alert as the buildup planning process winds down and massive construction begins. If Guam's local leaders and everyday citizens hope to be heard and helped, they must identify whatever they might find amiss with military planning, organize with one voice, and state their case for quality-of-life benefits. Those benefits include equal access to quality utilities and economic opportunity, an outdoor environment worth enjoying, and enough funding to sustain the social safety net as the population increases.

That process starts this weekend. On Friday, the Department of Defense posted online a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) spelling out how the land and coastal resources will be utilized for expanded regional defense purposes. Hard copies of the multi-volume DEIS will be available in local mayors' offices, libraries and even a shopping mall this weekend.

Hopes are high for quality outcomes. But a history of mutual mistrust and mismanagement has many local residents on the lookout for shortcomings to the DEIS.

The Compact-Impact Conundrum

An emotionally charged example of federal-territorial relations gone amok is the sticky issue of Compact-Impact reimbursement. Senator Frank Blas, Jr. has fought long and hard with the Federal Government to pay what he calls 'the the bare-minimum $400 million' in outstanding, un-reimbursed costs borne by GovGuam in hosting migrants from small, rural Pacific island nations.

The nations of these FAS citizens (citizens of Freely Associated States) bear benefit-laden Compacts of Free Association with the United States, including uninhibited resettlement rights to U.S. jurisdictions for their citizens. Perhaps ironically, the arrangement includes certain defense rights for the United States in the FAS region, according to Wikipedia.

Guam has traditionally been a favorite destination of FAS migrants. This is owing to its proximity to FAS states such as the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Palau, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands; it is also due to Guam's cultural similarities to the FAS region; and to Guam's relatively robust economic and educational opportunities compared to those available in the less-populous, less-developed Freely Associated States.

The large-scale migration of FAS citizens has become a costly burden for Guam's infrastructure, public healthcare, and social institutions -- especially in light of slack reimbursements from a U.S. government that allows the migration to continue unfettered. And yet even the small federal funding Guam does receive for FAS absorption isn't entirely safe from reprogramming.

An Unwelcome Surprise

In a strange twist of fate, on Friday morning it was learned that the Department of the Interior had authorized Governor Felix Camacho to loan $5 million of Guam's paltry $16.8 million in annual Compact reimbursements to the Guam Department of Education at a time when that money has already been spoken for. The deal had been hammered out by Interior Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs Tony Babauta and Guam Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo, reportedly without Governor Camacho's input.

Knowing that the limited reimbursement funding was programmed to underwrite capital improvements and social services -- and that he could expect no guarantee of timely repayment from Guam DOE, Governor Camacho rightly turned the arrangement down.

Through a pattern of financial mismanagement, the local school system has lost its control over the funding it receives from U.S. DOE. That authority won't be restored until a third-party administrator is appointed to manage the school system's federal funds.

A Bigger Perspective

Blas is fighting a worthy war for reimbursement. And despite financial mismanagement by school system administrators, Guam's public school students, including those from the FAS, deserve consistent financing for the federal programs that educate them. But it will take better overall financial management by the likes of Guam DOE and consistently unwasteful budgetary responsibility on the part of the Legislature to repair Guam's credibility with the U.S. government.

This is important because the federal system has the means and the know-how, if not the attention span, to get things done for players with mutual interests -- not only in democratic freedom -- but in the price of accountability that must be paid for this ideal.

Although the U.S. Government may not be entirely accountable with regard to Compact-Impact reimbursements to the Territory, the United States is arguably the world's most benificent nation. It is also inarguably the world's most powerful. Benificence and power go hand in hand and enable the U.S. to pick and choose what it wants to prioritize.

Insofar as a generous hegemon prefers to deal with players that have something valuable to offer in return, it behoves Guam to get its priorities straight and its house in order as the Department of Defense prepares to break ground on its $15 billion buildup this summer.

Michael Rudolph contributed to this analysis.

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