A regular Source column, Undercurrents explores issues, ideas and events developing beneath the surface in the Virgin Islands community.
If you’re still waiting for the cavalry to swoop in and take care of the bad guys, it’s time to change the channel.
Federal assistance for addressing public corruption, mismanagement and simple administrative weaknesses in V.I. government operations is shriveling.
Local auditors have mitigated the loss but there is still a gap.
Since it announced it was closing its Virgin Islands office in 2012, the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs Inspector General’s Office has published just one rather limited V.I. audit report, monitoring some federal grant money. It is currently working on a second, reportedly extensive, audit in collaboration with the V.I. Inspector General’s Office.
“I don’t believe we have anything else planned,” said Jillian Carroll, a communications specialist who responded to a Source inquiry on behalf of the office’s External Affairs Director Nancy Dipaolo. There is nothing listed on the Interior website regarding V.I. reports in 2016.
“We just have limited resources,” so the department has to plan carefully, Carroll said.
This does not mean that the federal IG has abandoned the territory, she stressed. It does not preclude Interior from jumping in on a future audit, if the need arises.
Still the presence is obviously fading.
When Interior closed its St. Thomas office, one official said it had been conducting an average of four audits a year, which was about a 50 percent reduction from its heyday in the 1980s.
Hannibal M. “Mike” Ware, who worked in the office on St. Thomas for 23 years, eventually becoming regional manager, moved stateside at least two years before the office closed but continued to run the operation from there.
“Our goal is to do at least two audits a year,” he said in 2012. Last month, he left Interior and took a job as the deputy inspector general with the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The only V.I. report issued by Interior since 2012 was one based on data from 2010 and released in June 2014. It found that the V.I. Department of Human Services “may not have provided Head Start services to the neediest children.”
The report faulted the department for poor recordkeeping that it said could have allowed less needy children to get into the program ahead of those most needy. A random sampling of 100 children found 11 who received more priority status points than they should have. The report also said that DHS had failed to meet a federal requirement that at least 10 percent of Head Start enrollment be filled by students who are disabled.
The joint audit currently in the works is likely to be meatier. It is an overview of the Public Finance Authority requested by the Legislature.
“It’s pretty extensive,” Carroll said.
Last August, V.I. Inspector General Steven van Beverhoudt said the PFA audit was taking longer than expected. There were a lot of documents to sort through. The report is meant to include a review of administrative functions as well as an analysis of how bond proceeds are used.
Last week van Beverhoudt said the report has been in the works for about two years; Interior is working on a final draft. “They have so many levels of review,” he said, and his office is awaiting the final review.
Once an audit is finalized, it is sent to the subject entity for its review and response. Typically the entity has 30 days to respond, although it is not unusual for that period to be extended. Once the response is incorporated into the audit, it can be released to the public.
Van Beverhoudt said he does not expect the PFA audit to be public before the fall of 2016 or the end of the year.
Independent of Interior, his office is working on several other audits.
The one closest to release involves the legal fees incurred by the government in its pursuit of environmental cleanup penalties from polluters. Gov. Kenneth Mapp requested that audit; van Beverhoudt said it could be out within the month.
The office also is close on a report of inventory controls in the school lunch program.
It’s following up on a previous audit looking into real property auctions that resulted in charges being filed against several people.
Will there be more charges?
“We hope so. The AG (attorney general) makes that final decision,” van Beverhoudt said.
“We’re just starting the Board of Education (audit.) It’s a request from them,” he said. The board wanted the auditors to review operations from 2004 forward, but van Beverhoudt said that was unwieldy and much of the paperwork would not be available. Instead the auditors will look at their operations and controls starting in 2013.
The governor has requested a similar review of the Casino Control Commission and that should begin soon, he added.
Meanwhile, the office is getting ready to comply with a request from Sen. Almando Liburd to audit the use of government credit cards.
“We’ll start with the executive (branch),” van Beverhoudt said, “and we probably will get into the instrumentalities.” At this point, auditors don’t even know what policies and procedures are supposed to govern credit card use. So the audit won’t be completed, much less made public, for quite a while.