U.S. AGENCY GATHERS DATA IN CNMI VISA PROBE

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By Agnes E. Donato

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Sept. 27) - The U.S. Government Accountability Office has completed a three-week visit to Saipan to gather data on the CNMI economy and guest worker program.

GAO is conducting the study at the request of the U.S. Congress, which is currently considering legislation to place local immigration under federal control.

Richard A. Pierce, the governor's special assistant for trade relations and economic affairs, said the four-member GAO team held meetings with various government agencies, business organizations, and community groups in the past three weeks.

Pierce, who assisted the GAO representatives during their trip, said meetings were arranged for the GAO team with Finance, Revenue and Tax, Management and Budget, Commerce, and Central Statistics officials.

GAO also met with the Marianas Visitors Authority, Department of Public Lands, Division of Immigration, Department of Labor, Northern Marianas College, Workforce Investment Agency, Commonwealth Utilities Corporation, Office of the Public Auditor, Commonwealth Ports Authority, Department of Public Health, and the Public Schools System.

Meetings were also held with the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association, Korean Garment Association, Contractors Association, Chinese Economic Development Association, and the Philippine Consulate General.

The GAO also talked to tour agencies and worker groups from the Philippines and China.

Furthermore, GAO met with Burger & Comer to compare notes on their respective studies, Pierce said.

Burger & Comer was hired by the local government to conduct a similar economic study on the Commonwealth. The U.S. Interior Department funded the study. A preliminary report is due in early November.

"GAO reported they are in the design phase, but accumulated so much material they had to buy another suitcase for their trip back to Washington, DC and San Francisco," said Pierce.

He also said data will continue to be supplied to GAO for the next 30 to 45 days.

The Fitial administration has repeatedly called on Congress to defer action on the NMI immigration bill until GAO completes its economic report.

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