Inos Reveals Plan To Reduce CNMI Government Size, Spending

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Healthcare, utilities, school system and retirement fund prioritized

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, March 5, 2013) – Northern Marianas Governor Eloy S. Inos gave a rundown yesterday of his administration's plans to reduce government spending and size, remove redundancy, and improve efficiency. That includes merging the Department of Labor and the Workforce Investment Agency, privatizing parks maintenance, and turning over the operation of the Oleai Sports Complex from the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs to an entity such as the Northern Marianas Amateur Sports Association, among others.

The list also includes not filling vacant positions deemed unnecessary or not critical.

The governor shared these after he and Lt. Gov. Jude U. Hofschneider met with Cabinet members yesterday morning on Capital Hill.

Some lawmakers interviewed later said they support the administration's proposals.

House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (IR-Saipan) said these proposals will reduce the size of government in the long run. He cited his inaugural address where he mentioned that 80 percent of the government's budget goes to personnel costs, which he said is "top heavy" and should be reduced to 60 or 70 percent.

Inos said many of these specific plans are likely to be implemented in fiscal year 2014 starting on Oct. 1, so that they will be embedded in the administration's proposed budget.

The administration has until April 1 to submit its proposed $114 million fiscal year 2014 budget to the Legislature.

However, transferring the operations and management of the Oleai Sports Complex from DCCA to NMASA or another non-government entity could happen within the current fiscal year, Inos said.

This change was one of the recommendations of an independent 2010 desk audit on DCCA that was never implemented by the previous administration.

The Virginia-based Management Analysis Inc., which did the desk audit on DCCA and the Department of Public Safety, said both departments are overstaffed and have employees with overlapping functions.

It specifically recommended, among other things, moving the Division of Sports and Recreation functions to the Northern Marianas Amateur Sports Association.

Rep. Ray Tebuteb (IR-Saipan), who is also president of the Northern Marianas Athletics, believes that NMASA will be able to better run the Oleai Sports Complex, as this is already provided for in a law that has never been implemented.

"It's about time this is done. The previous administration did not heed the recommendation of that desk audit paid for by the federal government. I am 100 percent in support of removing the operation and management of the sports complex from DCCA to NMASA. NMASA can also go out and seek funding such as from private donors. But there has to be a gradual transition," he told Saipan Tribune.

Priorities

The Inos administration seeks to prioritize healthcare, utilities, the NMI Retirement Fund, and the Public School System, as well as tourism to help grow the economy.

"We've got several areas that we need to really address. A lot of it has to do with programs that have been established for the longest time and we need to revisit these programs and see if they're still relevant, see if the resources are being used to address those key areas. Are there any waste, duplication, inefficiencies and so forth? We are going to have to readjust the mission so that with the limited resources that we have, we will concentrate the application of those limited resources to identified priorities," he added.

The need to spread out limited funds is compounded by the negative impact on the CNMI of the so-called federal sequestration-a series of automatic, across-the-board cuts to U.S. government agencies totaling $1.2 trillion over 10 years that began on March 1.

Among the specific plans Inos cited to better use the CNMI's limited resources is privatizing the government function of maintaining parks throughout the islands.

"Not only do we have issues with respect to manpower, equipment, and so forth, there's just not enough funding," Inos said. "The plan is to look at maybe privatizing those types of services so there's the added benefit. We got a sustainable program, a contractor that does it Monday to Sunday to make sure they collect the trash."

Inos said the government appreciates the work of volunteers who clean up roadways, beaches, and tourist sites but it is separate from having an agency or contractor that will be responsible for maintaining parks.

"That's one way to trim down the cost for the government. We won't have any burden for employee related expenses like contributions for the Retirement Fund. We plan to look into that and we're going to crank that idea into the budget," he said.

Inos, a former Finance secretary, said government personnel could either be reassigned to other agencies "or have the contractor absorb those employees."

"Any savings that we can get from that may be used to cushion the impact of reduced federal funding," he added.

Consolidating agencies and programs is also another area to cut costs and improve efficiency.

Inos said the Department of Labor and the Workforce Investment Agency "share the same mission, goal.it's for the employment of eligible U.S. individuals."

"We plan to merge those two agencies and hopefully we'll have some savings in the process," the governor added.

Courtesy resignations

Inos said he and Hofschneider received the performance reports from Cabinet members and agency heads and the review is expected to be completed this Thursday, when the governor will possibly announce who will be replaced or retained.

He said he expected the courtesy resignations to accompany the performance reports.

Tebuteb reiterated yesterday his call for Cabinet members to give the new governor and lieutenant governor the chance to choose their Cabinet members.

Some Cabinet and agency heads interviewed yesterday said they did not submit courtesy resignations. Only a few department heads confirmed turning over a courtesy resignation.

Among them is Corrections Commissioner Ray Mafnas.

"I submitted my courtesy resignation before the new administration asked for Cabinet members to submit theirs. However, I was never asked to submit my courtesy resignation. I did it voluntarily," he told Saipan Tribune.

Inos said he and Hofschneider will go over the performance reports.

"We want to make sure that all we do by way of moving forward will be based on the mission and how they performed during the last 12 months and. what they plan to accomplish in the ensuing 12 month-period," the governor told reporters.

Division of work

Inos said he and the lieutenant governor have talked about their division of work.

Among them is that Hofschneider will be "liaison for all matters related to the first and second senatorial districts" of Rota and Tinian.

"He's been assigned responsibility to oversee projects, CIPs in those two districts, make sure those projects are completed on time and work with respective mayors to start executing or implementing the projects," he added.

Inos, a former lieutenant governor, ascended to the gubernatorial post on Feb. 20, after former governor Benigno R. Fitial resigned.

Fitial stepped down days ahead of his impeachment trial on March 7. The House of Representatives impeached Fitial on 18 charges of corruption, felony, and neglect of duty.

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