April 15, 2005 After waiting until the 11th hour, the V. I. government responded to the U.S. Department of Education's demand for a report by April 15 on the V. I. government's progress on the compliance agreement between the two entities.
There had been speculation that the response would not be drafted in time. Sen. Liston Davis, chairman of the Senate Education, Culture and Youth Committee, said he was "rather pessimistic" as to the government "meeting the USDOE demands by tomorrow."
(See "Officials Remain Tight-lipped on Meeting Education Deadline".)
Government officers remained quiet Friday until Office of Management and Budget Director Ira Mills, who serves as chairman of the Compliance Agreement Task Force, spoke on Radio One's 5 p.m. news broadcast.
He addressed concerns expressed in the March 31 letter from USDOE Undersecretary Edward McPherson to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull. Mills also had words of warning regarding government inefficiency. He said things have to change.
The V. I. government entered into the agreement with the USDOE in September of 2002, and has made little progress since, in the eyes of McPherson. The agreement was entered into because the Education Department failed to manage its federal funds.
Mills said, "There are still some items we have not been able to complete for the agreement." Nonetheless, Mills said, steps have been taken to purchase a new financial management system. "The Legislature has appropriated money, and we have the money on hand to purchase the new system," Mills said. "The Government Employee Research Center has done a needs assessment and are helping getting out a request for proposals."
"We sent a response package to McPherson today," he said, "and by Monday he will get all the other supporting documents for that response."
Mills pointed out, "Government employees must expect we are going to do things differently and we are not going to shuffle paper from one department to another. A document will travel electronically. Someone in Finance can put a document in the computer, and work on it with someone in Property and Procurement. Carrying paper from P and P to Finance and the Lt. Governor's office is going to be a thing of the past. All this functioning done manually will be captured by the system and we expect supervisors will take a more active role."
Mills continued in this vein. "Unless there is an attitude that 'the new system will help me do my work more efficient,' then all of this would be for naught. With the new system, very major changes will occur."
Then, Mills addressed issues with the Property and Procurement Department. "You hear criticisms of P and P. I think Biggs (Commissioner Marc Biggs) has done a remarkable job of reforming P and P. The new process should proceed not just with procurement, but with inventory management to buttress it."
Mill said, "I'm very excited about the change the new system is going to bring. The government has to be operated more efficiently. It means we will free some people to work in the private sector. We will work more efficiently with less people, " he said.
"Granted the government created a middle class, we are a step beyond that now. We need to move toward political independence. We need to look at the private sector."
As for the federal government, Mills said, "We have been having ongoing discussions with the federal government. You can never judge what they will do. Given the right direction, I think we can work with them to accomplish just that."
This is not the first time Mills has talked about the Financial Management System. Under repeated questioning in Senate meetings over the last couple years, Mills has stated the current system is inadequate. But he has not said before that the government had the funds to get a new one.
Calls to McPherson's office Friday were unreturned.
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