OPINION | The fate of federal funding

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WITH the flurry of recent headlines regarding austerity, economic collapse, and the impending zombie apocalypse, the CNMI would appear to be in a bit of a pickle.

Most solutions for a strong, local economy here will require hardship, hard work, and re-structuring on an extended timeline. I sometimes text while driving and make very poor decisions in life so I probably won’t live to see it. That being said, there is one policy change the current administration could make that would help alleviate just a little bit of the short-term stress: Use the money that the federal government has given you.

This basic idea is probably obvious to most of you reading this. There are a lot of very good reasons for spending federal money that is provided. The money directly benefits the people and programs it is intended for (if it’s used as intended). The money feeds into multipliers via the community’s relative spending power. Giving the money back to whoever gave it to you has unforeseen consequences. It’s this last one that we often don’t think through.

Let’s say there’s a hypothetical federal agency named the National Sea & Sky Administration or NSSA, and it gives the CNMI $1.6 million to spend by the end of the fiscal year. By restricting NSSA-funded travel, reducing working hours, delaying procurements, and jeopardizing NSSA-funded projects, we end up doing some damage. The NSSA-funded CNMI residents have wages withheld, potential vendors, NGOs, and private businesses don’t get hired to complete projects, and ultimately the CNMI loses out. This hypothetical situation is even more frustrating because this fake federal agency has hypothetically granted the CNMI advanced drawdowns of funds (i.e. the CNMI government is not on a “reimbursement basis” through this completely imaginary grant vehicle — the money is already there).

In this totally fabricated scenario the federally funded employees have endured unnecessary hardship, the business community has been starved of spending potential held hostage by the administration, and the federally funded program itself has underperformed. By the end of the fiscal year the hypothetical federal agency might lose confidence in the CNMI’s use of future funding. Ruh Roh.

Now we get to the part about “unforeseen consequences.” This part of the story is less obvious, and a bit spooky. Sometimes when the federal government grants money and it goes unspent, it doesn’t go directly back to the granting agency (e.g. our hypothetical NSSA), whose budget is expiring. Instead, it disappears into the ether of expired budgets and unspent federal money, and can eventually wind up re-allocated elsewhere. Ultimately some of federal dollars that go unspent on austerity Fridays could fund projects or programs that the CNMI either doesn’t benefit from, or is harmed by.

Let’s take a stroll through some things that could be indirectly contributed to by our upcoming Friday Fund, or may have during past austerity:

• NASCAR. For those unfamiliar, NASCAR is like that one stretch of road through Tanapag and San Roque where nobody pays attention to the speed limit, but faster! In 2015 the Department of Defense paid over $1.5 million to NASCAR for personal appearances and ride-alongs, ostensibly to boost recruitment.

• Donald Trump’s “Space Force.” We’re not entirely sure what it is. Presumably like Star Wars, but more expensive.

• Statues made by famous folk musicians. At one point the State Department doled out $84,0000 to buy an original Bob Dylan sculpture for the Embassy of Mozambique. Lucky Mozambique!

• Reproductions of Shakespeare with Dogs. The National Endowment for the Arts spent $30,0000 on “Doggie Hamlet,” which involves dancers, actors, a herd of sheep and some border collies. Personally I think this is a hilarious and awesome use of money, and suggest Friends of the Arts, Saipan take note, but all you dog haters out there might disagree.

• A big fence in the desert next to Mexico.

• Jet Fuel for Target Practice. The Department of Defense spends money to ensure that people can fly our friendly island skies and pretend Farallon de Medinilla is the Death Star.

Last week the community learned that a letter was sent to the feds asking for help. If you were ol’ federal moneybags, would you dole out more cash to someone who doesn’t use what they have, withholds it from people and businesses that need it, and then scatters it blindly to the insane whims of Washington, D.C.?

Sounds ridiculous, but then again…Space Force.

The writer is a resident of As Matuis, Saipan.

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