U.S. DEMANDS AMERICAN SAMOA SPENDING RECORDS

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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News, Feb. 8) - The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has threatened to put the Territorial Office of Homeland Security on "high risk" designation after it found that grant money awarded to the local American Samoa program was diverted for other uses.

As it stands, Department of Homeland Security has frozen funds for the Territorial Office of Homeland Security and demanded last month financial records from American Samoa Government in order to review how these funds were spent.

The Department of Homeland Security Office of Grants & Training gave American Samoa Government until January 26 to produce financial records - specifically details of the general ledger, payroll journals, general ledger journal and supporting documents covering the periods April 1, 2006 through January 12, 2007.

Reportedly, these documents were already submitted and American Samoa Government Comptroller Brian Mix was to meet with Department of Homeland Security officials in Washington D.C. last week regarding the matter.

Mix returned over the weekend and had a meeting with Governor Togiola yesterday.

The review of Territorial Office of Homeland Security financial records and concerns by Department of Homeland Security over the local program were outlined in a letter from Department of Homeland Security Office of Grants & Training to Governor Togiola on January 12.

Corey Gruber, acting assistant secretary of the Office of Grants & Training, said that after reviewing a report from the Office of Inspector General regarding Territorial Office of Homeland Security, "we remain concerned about financial management and administrative deficiencies in American Samoa."

Currently, Territorial Office of Homeland Security is operating on certain conditions under what the federal agency describes as "in lieu of high risk," which was imposed in late 2005. According to Department of Homeland Security, it was agreed that a designation of "high risk" for Territorial Office of Homeland Security was not necessary at that time.

Among the conditions the local program must meet under the "in lieu of high risk" are to complete independent audits of all homeland security grants from FY 2000 to the present; tighter financial and programmatic controls; and a formal organization charge showing the structure of agencies receiving federal funds (Territorial Office of Homeland Security and TEMCO).

The federal agency also told American Samoa Government that it may impose a "high risk" designation based on the review of a report from Office of Inspector General about the local program.

In his letter to Togiola, Gruber acknowledged that since Territorial Office of Homeland Security was put on "in lieu of high risk," a unified and collaborative effort over a few short months "had already yielded many significant improvements and demonstrated the resolve of Territorial Office of Homeland Security to comply with program guidance."

He said the dedication by American Samoa Government to meet the conditions imposed for Territorial Office of Homeland Security should be applauded.

However, he said after reviewing Office of Inspector General's report regarding the local program, Department of Homeland Security continues to have concerns with the financial management of the local program.

"Since our review of the Office of Inspector General report, we have found that Homeland Security Grant funds have been diverted to uses by the State government offices for other than the intended use of Homeland Security funds," wrote Gruber. "This is not only in violation of public trust but the In Lieu of - agreement as well."

"Although we have been energized by the commitment and efforts of staff in the Territorial Office of Homeland Security office to abide by the agreements put in place to ensure success of the programs, these efforts are overshadowed by this most recent event as well as the continued deficiencies in administration," said Gruber, who then announced that funds for Territorial Office of Homeland Security will be frozen "pending a review of financial activity in the American Samoa as related to these Programs."

He said at the conclusion of the review of the financial records that were requested from American Samoa Government, "American Samoa will receive guidance regarding outcomes and next steps with respect to the "High Risk" designation."

According to U.S. Department of Homeland Security records, American Samoa's total allocation in FY 2005 was US$3.82 million and US$4.6 million in FY 2006.

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