DEAR Congressman Sablan:

It was made  apparent to me via a lengthy commentary you posted that was related to the creation of the new Infrastructure Recovery  Program or IRP, that you are exceptionally misinformed about  the purpose of this program. I am disheartened that rather than  reach out to discuss the IRP and the role it will play in providing much needed professional support to the many  agencies  involved in infrastructure projects, you opted to take the opportunity to politicize this effort and most disappointingly, misinform the community.

My administration has made  it a priority to bring  all of the resources we have at our disposal to ensuring that we maximize the impact of the various lines of assistance the CNMI is receiving from the U.S. federal  government. This is a critical time for the CNMI, and I would like to believe you have an interest in seeing these resources utilized in as expeditious manner as possible to see our community and economy strengthened. I would hope that you share  the goal of seeing that we fully recover  from the natural and health disasters that have beset us over the last several  years, and that we are in a better place, with hardened infrastructure, better  housing, improved facilities, a beautified community, and have more to offer our residents and visitors.

This is why my administration has organized the Governor’s Council  of Economic Advisors and undertaken a list of priorities for community improvement. It is why we invested so much  time in project applications to the Economic Development Administration, to facilitate  a cultural event complex,  a rehabilitated and state-of-the-art sports facility, the rehabilitation of the Paseo tourist district, and upgraded financial infrastructure. It is why my administration has taken  the opportunities to develop new community parks  and to restore  and lengthen the pathway, partnered to see the CNMI Soccer Training Facility, begun the resurfacing of the CNMI’s major roadways, transitioning to a 21st century financial  management system,  transforming the One-Start Permit  to a portal platform, and why my administration has been driven to see these and many  other  projects made  a priority.

Managing federal  funds of any amount is a complex  undertaking. You might  recall the long history of difficulty the CNMI has had managing our grant  resources properly, of threats from grantors, and of the CNMI made  ineligible  for grants due to mismanagement. My administration has gone to great lengths to address this longstanding problem, and we have been tremendously successful in greatly improving our grants management and oversight, bringing many  grants that were in arrears into full compliance and in fact, facilitating model  programs from what  once were programs under threat of penalty or closure  due to grant  fund  mismanagement. Excluding the funding assistance received that was related to super-typhoon Yutu or the Covid-19 pandemic, the CNMI saw a significant increase  in the amount of overall  federal  grant resources received and a significant reduction in negative findings related to grant  fund management. This is the direct result  the administration has put on taking  advantage of available grant  opportunities and managing grants properly. A component of addressing this issue was the creation of the Office of Grants Management, which  has helped ensure the CNMI capitalizes on grant  opportunities and sees exemplary management of our grants. My administration has made  it a priority and has delivered an exemplary record  of managing the many  grants regularly made  available to us.

We are now faced with  managing a significantly larger  amount of funding, an historic amount of funding in fact, at close to one-billion dollars over the next few years. The respective personnel at our various departments and agencies  that manage their program’s regular stream of grants have been operating at or near their capacity before this additional funding. These significant new federal  funding sources,  simply  put, will require the CNMI to build  capacity to effectively  manage and coordinate all aspects  of these new funds. They will allow us to put professional area-specific resources to project developments at the front-end of these projects to aid in the address of issues related to historic  preservation, environmental, and planning, design, and engineering, that are common obstacles  to our projects.

Whether it is an additional archaeologist, a compliance officer for Section 106, a civil engineer, environmental specialist, a project manager, or a contract specialist, the ability to bring  these resources on board and put to the task of these projects, will ensure that we have the capacity to see projects completed expeditiously and properly. Many of our agencies  and programs need these professionals to address aspects  of their projects funded by various sources,  but do not require and cannot  justify maintaining them  in their full-time employ. This need has been seen by our federal  partners including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban  Development and the U.S. Airforce. The Infrastructure and Recovery  Program or IRP will provide these professional resource personnel as necessary to move CNMI projects forward.

The IRP will assist with disaster recovery and public  assistance hazard mitigation projects, including those of Northern Marianas College, the Public School System, the  Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., the Commonwealth Utilities Corp., and our many  road projects, addressing permitting and planning requirements. Contrary to your assertion, the IRP is not designed to infringe on the independence or authority of any autonomous agency.  The suggestion you’ve made  that autonomous agencies  like Northern Mariana’s College, the Public School System, or other  branches of government like the judiciary, do not need such services, is completely uninformed.  In fact, all of the above have seen their projects caught up in difficulties related to grantor requirements, planning requirements, and permitting requirements, that have involved the administrative branch permitting agencies  and respective federal  agencies,  and that would have been benefitted tremendously had we had the ability financially to have had this program in place earlier.

Your accusations that this office is being created so that I can “control who gets awarded contracts” is completely baseless  and that a lie like that is derived from our representative to the U.S. Congress, is deeply disturbing. I would remind you that the CNMI has a robust system  for the competitive awarding of contracts and has a robust regime  of oversight both locally through the Office of the Public Auditor and the Attorney General’s Office, and federally through respective federal  agencies  and their inspectors general. Your untoward accusation is not just an untruth and insult  to me, it is an insult  to all of these agencies  and their professional staff who dutifully carry out their work  to ensure the laws of the Commonwealth are adhered to. They are an insult  to the departments, agencies,  and programs, both Executive  Branch and autonomous, who at their suggestion and to address their needs,  this program was created.

We both hold positions of tremendous responsibility to the people of the CNMI. In these roles we should recognize this fact and act with a level of professionalism that serves the greater interest of the Commonwealth. It is a shame  that you as our representative to Congress  do not possess  the civility to reach out to gather information on any questions you may have, before deciding to engage  in politics in such an inappropriate fashion.  We have met previously many  times, and each time, you represent a position of collaboration and partnership, only to harm  the important relationship between the state government and its representation to Congress when  it becomes  politically convenient.

My administration is going to continue focus on doing  what  needs  to be done  to ensure that the funding we receive is expended properly and for the benefit  of the people. We have managed both our natural disasters and this current Covid-19 pandemic, exceptionally. That is not to suggest that we do not make mistakes or do not need to reevaluate along the way, but your continued pitch to the community and in fact to the federal  government, that resources are being misused or squandered, is not only absolutely false — such suggestions by our very own Representative to the U.S. Congress are unbecoming, unhelpful, and in fact harmful to the CNMI.

My phone remains available and my door  remains open to you, should you have questions or need information. As I have said many  times before when  the media spotlight does not allow you the opportunity to continue these tiresome political games,  I would prefer,  for the benefit of our Commonwealth, that you reach out to seek any answers you need, rather than  continue to engage  in political  gamesmanship, especially when  we are on the ground working every day to fully recover  from the natural disasters and navigate our community safely through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Respectfully,

RALPH DLG TORRES

Governor

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