U.S. GRANTS FOR GUAM IN JEOPARDY AFTER COMPUTER TAMPERING

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New administrators of office overseeing grants can’t access data

By Brett Kelman HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Jan. 6, 2011) – In Guam, millions of dollars in federal grant money may be in jeopardy because computers at the Guam State Clearinghouse appear to have been tampered with, the office's new administrator said yesterday.

Clearinghouse Administrator Eric Palacios is urging any group or agency with current or pending grants to visit or contact his office immediately by calling 475-9380. If the grant is time-sensitive or nearing expiration, it's even more important that recipients reach the office with financial records, he said.

"In the meantime, our staff continues working diligently to ensure that none of this precious federal money is compromised," Palacios said.

Starting Monday, Palacios took the lead of an entirely new staff at the Clearinghouse under Gov. Eddie Calvo. The office has responsibility for helping GovGuam agencies, groups and organizations maneuver the complex federal grant process.

The Clearinghouse helps these groups craft competitive grant applications and monitors grant funds to ensure no money is unspent or misspent. In many ways, the Clearinghouse serves a watchdog function for grant money, Palacios said.

It's crucial to keep up-to-date records, or strict grant spending rules could be broken, he said, which means funds would have to be returned or grant applicants could be blacklisted.

"That's not something the government of Guam can afford to do right now, Palacios said. As dire as the financial situation is, we definitely need all the federal assistance we can get."

In the waning days of the administration of former Gov. Felix Camacho, Palacios was given multiple assurances by the former administrator, Roland Villaverde, that none of the computers had passwords and all the records were intact.

That was "not at all the case," Palacios said.

"When we walked in on Monday, we tried turning on computers and we were greeted with password screens."

Some computers also had their operating systems uninstalled and replaced with a different system, creating a "clean slate," Palacios said.

The office has recruited information technology specialists from across the local government. They have spent two days working to circumvent passwords and retrieve critical information from hard drives, Palacios said.

Ed Cruz, GovGuam's new chief information officer, said it was his professional opinion that the computers had been manipulated to prevent continuity. Palacios said it appeared the computers were "intentionally tampered with" to obscure records.

Many of those records were recovered, but Palacios said he doesn't know how many were lost.

"Even once (recovery) is complete, I can't say if we retrieved every file or every current application or every pending application, Palacios said. Unfortunately, we just might never know."

That means a grant window could be nearing its end, but the office has no records on how money has been spent or how much more still must be spent.

According to a press release from the governor's office, Villaverde's government-issued laptop wasn't returned. It also could hold critical grant data.

Villaverde couldn't be reached for comment yesterday despite multiple calls to his home.

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