Guam racing against time to use federal funds that will expire next year
By Gina Tabonares-Reilly
The clock is ticking on the Guam Department of Education to expend a federal grant that will expire in September next year, but the local government has yet to begin the procurement process for the projects for which the funds are earmarked.
"There exist at least three main concerns with GDOE’s ability to expend their funds before the deadline: technical expertise, procurement procedure, and construction & construction service availability," Sen. Frank Blas Jr. said in a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Miguel A. Cardinal.
The funds are allotted for repairs of public schools.
During the Guam legislature's discussion with GDOE, education officials disclosed that a little over half of the $287 million Guam received in American Rescue Plan funding has yet to be spent.
Guam stands to lose the funds that remain unused before September 2024.
Blas asked Cardinal for an extension of the deadline to use the ARP funds provided to GDOE.
"The funding provided to GDOE has given us the opportunity to address dire and deplorable conditions with its facilities and infrastructure," the senator said.
"And while it can be argued that it is adequate to prioritize, plan, procure, and proceed prior to the deadline, it is only prudent to request for an extension or waiver of the deadline to ensure there is adequate time to fully expend the funding," he added.
Blas said GDOE does not ordinarily employ individuals with the expertise to assess and come up with the specifications necessary to address their structural and maintenance deficiencies.
" While there are current efforts to utilize engineers and specification writers from other government agencies to address this shortfall," Blas said.
"Because this process is relying on external assistance, it is subject to the availability of individuals who still have responsibilities in their respective agencies," he said.
Blas noted that the procurement involves a lengthy process and thus "can take an inordinate amount of time and potentially conflict with the existing deadline."
Another challenge hindering the school projects is the deficit in construction services on Guam, compounded by the high costs of materials, supplies and manpower.
"Guam is amid a military buildup that has not been experienced by any U.S. jurisdiction in over sixty years," Blas said.
"This unprecedented undertaking has already put a tremendous strain on construction activity outside of the military fences and could delay and severely impact anticipated capital improvement project completions," he added.
"In a legislative hearing held earlier today, GDOE management officials acknowledged that the concerns expressed in this letter are concerns that GDOE recognizes and if they have to contend with any or all of these concerns, it will detrimentally affect their ability to meet the timeline," Blas said.