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House bill redundant, says Finance chief

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THERE are already existing local and federal rules that guarantee “full and open disclosure of federal and local spending related to the Covid-19 pandemic” as proposed by House Bill 21-114, Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig told the House Committee on Judiciary and Government Operations.

Chaired by Rep. Joel Camacho, the committee is reviewing the bill introduced by House Minority Leader Edwin Propst, Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao, Reps. Luis John Castro, Tina Sablan, Sheila Babauta, Richard Lizama, Edmund Villagomez and Donald Manglona.

The bill, its co-authors said, aims to “ensure checks and balances, and full transparency and accountability in the implementation of federal and Commonwealth assistance programs related to the Covid-19 pandemic.” Ultimately, it “will provide to the people of the Commonwealth full and open disclosure of federal and local spending related to the Covid-19 pandemic and will help foster more trust and faith in our government.”

In his comment regarding the bill, Atalig said Finance commends its intent to “enhance transparency and accountability to improve the management of assistance programs the CNMI received from the federal government to protect the community from the Covid-19 pandemic.”

He pointed out that the Commonwealth has existing employment procedures in place to address all information sought by H.B. 21-114.

The bill would require the governor to report to the Legislature the names and number of employees hired for jobs related to Covid-19 pandemic response, along with positions filled, the length of employment, the cost of hiring, the source of funding and the nature of the critical need that was filled.

If the committee would push forward with the bill, Atalig recommended that the measure make a distinction between new employment and employees reassigned from their duty to the pandemic response. 

H.B. 21-114 requires the governor to submit to the Legislature, within one business day, a copy of every necessary program, contract, memorandum of understanding and memorandum of agreement created to address and mitigate the impact of Covid-19, including but not limited to the provisions of U.S. Public Law 116-136, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security or CARES Act.

Atalig said the one-day submission period “is an inefficient use of government time and resources.” He noted that Finance took part in furloughs and reduced work hours to conserve valuable financial resources. Submitting MOUs, MOA and contracts in one day, he said, imposes additional responsibilities to an already limited number of employees and exhaustion of administrative supplies Finance has dedicated to conserve.

But if the JGO committee is eager to endorse the passage of H.B. 21-114, Atalig said it should give Finance a minimum of seven days reporting to alleviate time constraints on an already limited number of employees.

The bill will likewise authorize the Division of Revenue and Taxation to implement the federal economic impact payment or cash assistance program.

Atalig said, “It is worth noting that the Division of Revenue and Taxation is already authorized under the federal level provision and is bound by the guidelines and regulations of the Internal Revenue Service.”

This eliminates the need for the provision of the bill as federal regulations supersede local or state initiatives, Atalig said.

“We understand the committee’s desire to strengthen measures to properly manage assistance programs; however, we respectfully request for the committee to honor the representation of local and federal organizations and agencies who, for years, have played an important role in ensuring proper management of these funds,” Atalig added.

He also provided the JGO committee chairman a copy of memorandum issued by the National Governor’s Association indicating the several oversight provisions in the CARES Act. These include the creation of a Congressional Oversight Commission tasked with conducting oversight of the Department of Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board’s economic relief activities.

Atalig said the CARES Act, in addition to providing much needed assistance to the CNMI, contains “a wide variety of initiatives to ensure appropriate oversight and accountability of funds.”

 

 

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