Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Guam EPA Under Scrutiny

GEPA under scrutiny .
Thursday, 06 May 2010 05:05
by Therese Hart
Marianas Variety News Staff

EPA official says environment agency facing high-risk status

REPRESENTATIVES from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are currently on island to look into the Guam EPA’s financial control system, which a report found to be mismanaged.

Enrique Manzanilla, director of EPA’s communities and ecosystems division, earlier told Guam EPA administrator Lorilee Crisostomo that the fiscal mismanagement could place the agency under a high-risk status.

EPA’s 2009 End of Year Program Review Summary found that in the last two years, Guam EPA has been hiring staff without increasing its revenues.

Gerry Cruz, public information officer for GEPA, said yesterday that Crisostomo was off-island and she would have to review the report thoroughly before she could comment.

An administration officer in Adelup, who requested not to be identified, said Crisostomo is likely to be placed on administrative leave once she gets back from her trip.

Manzanilla stated in his letter to the Guam EPA administrator that his staff has discussed the agency’s financial difficulties with Crisostomo over the last two years.

Cruz said EPA officials are working with Guam EPA and discussing all the points made in the report.

Cruz said the problems that GEPA is facing “didn’t just happen overnight.” He said there were some good points EPA mentioned about the progress GEPA is making in spite of its financial woes.

In discussions with Crisostomo, the administrative services office and other Guam EPA managers, EPA stated it was unclear how the local agency prioritizes its work, controls its finances or even whether it can determine if it is able to meet its salary and other operational expenses for the rest of the fiscal year.

The EPA report concluded that Guam EPA has not taken any steps to prevent the cash flow deficit from happening at the beginning of fiscal year 2011.

As an indicator of the difficulty GEPA will have meeting its expenses this year, Guam EPA’s salary expenses alone will total over $3 million. Local mandates require Guam EPA staff salaries to be paid exclusively by the EPA grant.

USEPA’s total consolidated grant for the year is $3.2 million, which is extended to cover salary plus other operational expenses. Because the EPA grant is encumbered for special purposes, less than $3 million of the grant is actually available for GEPA salaries.

“It is unlikely that current EPA funding would cover existing GEPA salaries, let alone contractors, project implementation, other operational expenses, unanticipated expenses, or higher-than-anticipated costs. This is a problem for an agency that is mostly funded by EPA’s grant,” Manzanilla stated in his letter to Crisostomo.

“Clearly there is a pattern of behavior that hardly helps its financial difficulties. The pattern over the last few years has been a ‘boom or bust’ system: funds have been frozen during the beginning of year cash flow “deficit” crisis GEPA experiences. Then an ad hoc hiring and other spending decisions are made after receiving EPA’s first grant award in spring, followed by spending cuts on an as-needed basis as the fiscal year closes,” the EPA report stated.

“This process has contributed to the financial problems described…and it is a fundamental deficiency,” according to the report.

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