July 28, 2004 – The inspector general of the Virgin Islands has heard plenty of promises in recent years. He walked away from his fiscal year 2005 budget hearing on Wednesday having heard several more while hoping only to get the same appropriation as this year and not to see the three vacant positions in his office eliminated.
Inspector General Steven G. van Beverhoudt didn't ask for an increase in his budget when he appeared before the Senate Finance Committee. "I am tired of asking," he said prior to the start of the hearing.
He did, however, make it clear that there is a limit to what his office can do without increased resources. "Our fiscal year 2005 budget will basically maintain the current status quo," van Beverhoudt told the few senators in attendance. "We will continue to get audit requests that cannot be addressed, and we will continue to get allegations of wrongdoing in the government that we will not be able to investigate."
And without increased funding there's no chance of implementing an aggressive audit follow-up program. "Without the proper resources our ability to follow up on the implementation of recommendations will be severely limited," he said. With the resources, he said, "an aggressive follow-up campaign can be initiated."
Also contributing to van Beverhoudt's woes is his inability to hire his own personnel. He is currently short two auditors and a lawyer. But the sluggish bureaucracy of government hiring has him constantly juggling the workload. "It's a cumbersome process, and you've got to keep jumping through all these hoops," he said. "I have people qualified, with years of experience, but because of the step process I can't bring them in at a competitive salary."
And with a starting salary of $28,000 to $29,000 and "no increases, no promotions, anyone with ambition moves on; we're a training ground," he said.
Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone took the lead in getting an override of the governor's veto of a bill conferring peace officer status on investigators in the Inspector General's office. He said he has drafted legislation now that would make the inspector general's budget a fixed percentage of the overall government budget a move made with positive results in Guam a few years ago.
Malone told van Beverhoudt: "If your audits reveal what the situation is, reveal criminal activity, we need to get serious about the way we do business, instead of bringing in a CFO." He was referring to a bill before Congress that would create a chief financial officer to control the purse strings for five years in the territory.
In a telephone conversation later in the day, Malone said his proposal would appropriate to the Inspector General's Office 0.5 percent of the territory's budget or $2.5 million a year, whichever is greater. The office now gets $1.08 million, Malone said. The legislation also would give the inspector general the power to hire and fire his own personnel.
At one point he had a staff of 19, van Beverhoudt said on Wednesday, but when three positions became vacant. "they eliminated them." That brought his office down to 16 employees including support staff. With the current vacancies, there are 13 employees to handle all of the audits and criminal investigations his office is charged with conducting.
Van Beverhoudt has served as inspector general since 1986. With two-thirds of the staff he once had, he is currently balancing 11 audits and recently completed five investigations of possible criminal behavior and sent his findings to the Attorney General's Office.
He said that due to the nature of the investigations he could not divulge details, but he did say that three of the probes involved the Water and Power Authority, the Police Department and "even the Department of Justice." But, he noted, "it's up to the AG whether to prosecute."
In June, the Inspector General's Office received an additional $84,000 appropriation in the supplemental budget for fiscal year 2004. But van Beverhoudt said on Wednesday that he has not yet received the allotment from the Office of Management and Budget.
"You have to ask for it," Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd said.
"Write to them and ask for it," Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, the Finance Committee chair, echoed.
Donastorg suggested that the Senate pass a law requiring the Office of Inspector General, which currently is independent, to do audits as directed by the Legislature.
Van Beverhoudt told Donastorg that it would be a mistake to bring politics into the process.
Donastorg also said the inspector general's budget should include more money to handle investigations other than on St. Thomas. Van Beverhoudt has no office on St. Croix and as a result was unable to conduct an audit there due to financial constraints.
After the meeting, van Beverhoudt indicated that without more resources, he still wouldn't be able to do the audits requested — no matter who requested them.
When contacted at his office later in the day about Malone's legislation, van Beverhoudt said: "I'll believe it when I see it."
The Finance Committee consists of Sens. Roosevelt David, Donastorg, Louis Hill, Norman Jn Baptiste, Malone, Luther Renee and Ronald Russell. Jn Baptiste was excused. On the Senate floor for most of van Beverhoudt's testimony were Donastorg, who chaired the hearing, Malone and Russell. Liburd, who is not a member of the committee, attended most of the hearing.
The Public Defender's Office and Legal Services of the Virgin Islands also presented their budget requests on Wednesday. A separate report on those agencies will be posted.
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