GUAM SEEKS TO REOPEN U.S. DEBT FORGIVENESS

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By Steve Limtiaco

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Feb. 14) - December 2004 rejected Guam's request for as much as US$200.7 million in federal debt relief, but Governor Felix Camacho will try to salvage about US$60.5 million of that amount during a meeting with administration officials later this month.

Camacho has asked the administration to put Guam debt relief on the agenda for his February 28 meeting in Washington, D.C., with the Interagency Group on Insular Areas.

[PIR editor’s note: President Clinton originally created The Interagency Group on Insular Areas in 1999 through an executive memorandum. President George W. Bush signed an executive order to re-establish the group on May 8, 2003. It is responsible for identifying issues and coordinating federal policy towards Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and makes recommendations to the president and other officials regarding such issues.]

Camacho in August 2004 sent the president a request for debt relief to offset the money Guam has spent to provide government services to regional immigrants.

At the time, Guam was owed about US$269.3 million for unreimbursed costs dating back to fiscal year 1987.

The request was a one-time opportunity allowed under a federal law that gave the president the ability to reduce or waive in whole, or in part, money that Guam owes to the federal government.

The Guam governor's office has said Bush rejected the governor's request because the law lacked an appropriation and because it was too vague to allow a US$100 million phone agency loan from the federal government to be forgiven.

The White House will not comment on the specific reasons for rejecting Guam's request.

The Pacific Daily News contacted the president's Office of Management and Budget last month and asked why Guam's entire request was rejected.

Office of Management and Budget spokesman Alex Conant would not comment specifically on that issue and instead noted that Guam now receives more federal reimbursement each year to offset the cost of regional immigration.

"It was a tight budget year, but the administration's support for Guam is evidenced in the renegotiated Compacts of Free Association, which made the Compact mandatory rather than subject to the uncertainty of annual appropriations. The revised Compacts also increased Guam's impact aid from US$5 million annually to US$14 million annually," Conant said in a written statement.

Guam would have received an increase anyway, under the law, because of the large number of regional immigrants who live here.

Governor Felix Camacho wrote several letters to federal officials in the months leading up to the president's December 31, 2004, deadline and also traveled to the nation's capital for meetings with administration officials.

"All portions of the debt relief package were on the table in face-to-face meetings and conference calls ... from the initial submission of the unreimbursed compact impact expenses on April 13, 2004, to the letter by the White House on December 30, 2004, of the final action of the president," governor's spokesman Shawn Gumataotao said.

Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo also pushed for approval.

"Congresswoman Bordallo wrote to the president, the administrator of the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service, the Secretary of the Navy and the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Affairs, urging their action on and support for the Governor's requests," her office said in a written statement. "She also wrote separately to Mr. Ruben Barrales, the Deputy Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs, regarding the Rural Utilities Service loan. In addition, Congresswoman Bordallo communicated with senior staff members in the White House Office of Legislative Affairs and her staff met with personnel at the Office of Management and Budget regarding the governor's request."

While the governor's entire request was rejected, Gumataotao said the governor continues to pursue the forgiveness of $60.5 million in questioned costs identified during audits of Guam spending.

"A number of portions in the request were identified as items that, through the normal process of follow-up and closure of audits, could be resolved," Gumataotao said. " Office of Management and Budget stated that the unresolved audit questions could be cleared up on a case-by-case basis and done administratively between the federal granting agency and the government of Guam agencies."

February 15, 2006

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com

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