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  • By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

FCC seeks probe of Guam's E911 fund raid

The Federal Communications Commission is seeking an investigation of Guam’s apparent misuse of E911 funds, which the territorial government — by its own admission — habitually diverts for other purposes.

“I have received conflicting reports from representatives in Guam about the scope, legality and impact of this diversion and I am seeking a clearer understanding of the precise situation,” FCC Commissioner Michael O’Reilly said in a July 6 letter to Assistant US Attorney Mikel Schwab, civil division chief at Department of Justice Districts of Guam and NMI.

Reilly is requesting Schwab to “help provide some clarity to this critical issue and provide insight on whether or not Guam appropriately allocated 911 funds in 2016, consistent with federal and local laws.”

Gov. Eddie Calvo earlier defended the E911 fund transfers saying they were “made within the parameters of both federal and local Guam law.” But Speaker Benjamin Cruz said the governor’s attempt to justify the raid of E911 fund was based on his wrong interpretation of the law.

“As I have stated time and again, 911 fee diversion is not a political issue, it is a public safety issue,” Reilly said. “I am not interested in engaging in local politics in Guam or anywhere else. What I am interested in is ending the disgraceful practice of 911 fee diversion throughout the country.”

Fire Chief Joey San Nicolas earlier disclosed that of the $2.10 million E911 fees collected in 2016, the government transferred $488,000 to the general fund. In 2017, the government diverted $840,000 out of the $2.21 million E911 collection.

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In a June 22 letter to Reilly, Calvo said the 911 fund diversion was authorized under Guam’s FY2018 budget law, which he claimed lifted the restrictions on the use of special funds.

But Cruz shot down Calvo’s argument, explaining that the current appropriations law “did not permit diversion of 911 funds in 2016 because the law ‘is only applicable for FY 2018 and is not applied retroactively.”

Besides the fund transfers in 2016 and 2017, another E911 fee diversion is in effect this fiscal year. Based on a Jan. 19, 2018 memo from Administration Director Christine Baleto, the amount of $839,583 in E911 fund was subject to permanent transfer for the current fiscal year. E911 funds that are permanently transferred are no longer available for the Guam Fire Department’s use, according to the memo.

“Regardless of whether Guam can divert 911 funds, there is no question as to whether it should divert such funds. The people of Guam rely on this emergency service in their most desperate hours, and deserve the full potential of E911 that can only be provided through sufficient funding,” Reilly said.

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