On November 15, Congress passed Bill No. 17-192 appropriating a sum of $5,697,383.00 ($5.7 million) from the General Fund of the Federated States of Micronesia to fund Congressional public projects at the four States and provide for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) payments owed by the State Governments.
This bill, which became Public Law No. 17-67, was vetoed on November 22 and overridden on November 24.
The FEMA payment portion of the legislation was a total of $1,497,383 – coming out from delegation share in this manner:
$284,210 -- Yap Delegation
$15,197 -- Kosrae Delegation
$219,116 -- Pohnpei Delegation
$978,860 -- Chuuk Delegation
The FEMA payment sections for Chuuk and Yap contained languages for repayments to the FSM Government, for Chuuk and to certain Congressional projects, for Yap. For Kosrae and Pohnpei, the legislation did not specify any repayment obligation to the FSM Government or otherwise.
On the public project side, an amount of $4.2 million was appropriated and divided equally amongst the fourteen Congress Members. This would make available $300,000 for each Member to fund various projects and activities itemized through sections 2, 3, 4, and 5. Equal apportionment per Member in public project appropriations has been the status quo for some time in spite of occasional protests by Members based on population demographics and Congressional terms.
Presidential Response to FEMA payments
After reviewing the Act, the President asked Congress in his veto message on November 12, 2012, that the national government pool the FEMA reimbursement funds from all the allottees in order for the President to reimburse FEMA in a lump sum, rather than create a four-way split with different allottees among the states.
“Mixing FEMA reimbursement with public projects allocations creates confusion. The FEMA reimbursement – being an extension of the terms and conditions of US federal grants – constitutes a different subject matter than local projects, which is why I submitted a request on FEMA separately from any other supplemental budget”, the veto message stated.
“… I recommend that the national government pool all FEMA reimbursement funds from the allottees as soon as possible in order for the President to reimburse FEMA in a lump sum. A lump sum payment will avoid duplication of work and ensure consistency in dealing with possible issues surrounding the reimbursement”, the President further stated.
Item Veto on Congressional Projects
As for the rest of the legislation, fourteen line items for various projects and activities were vetoed, which would reduce the $4.2 million project appropriation by $149,600.
In clarifying the basis for the vetoes, the President stressed his opposition of “public expenditures that have little or no lasting impact on the economy” and reiterated the need to link projects to the Nation’s Strategic Development Plan.
“The national agencies implementing public projects, and the States benefiting from them, must formulate projects together. For the sake of transparency and the involvement of the public whom we serve, public hearings and open consultations are important”.
How could effective planning of projects that worth millions be achieved in a short period of time without the benefit of review and input by intended government official implementers and beneficiaries in various communities and organizations?
Could there be a better system with regards public project appropriations to ensure they nail the bull’s eye in bettering communities, improving lives and growing a sustainable economy?
The President said, “I urge Congress to develop clear standards for public projects and social programs, tied to the Nation’s Strategic Development Plan, with public hearings required to promote transparency”.
On November 24th (Saturday), two days before adjournment of its 4th Special Session, Congress overrode the President’s veto after the Congressional Standing Committee on Ways and Means gave its recommendations to the plenary on Friday through Standing Committee Report (SCR) No. 17-165.
In response to the President’s view regarding FEMA payment, the committee report stated:
Your Committee finds the vetoes to be grounded solely in policy. To justify vetoes of the FEMA payments, the President alleges that certain items raise ambiguities and may be unconstitutional on equal protection grounds. Your Committee finds this argument unconvincing.
If indeed the President’s observations on the FEMA payment arrangements were “unconvincing”, leading to the override, one fact remained unexplained:
Why do Yap and Chuuk have to reimburse their FEMA payments while Kosrae and Pohnpei do not?
As for the fourteen items that were vetoed, the committee report stated that in the Ways and Means Committee’s view, the vetoed items were “consistent with sound public policy”. The committee disagreed with the President’s view that many of the projects did not have strong linkage to the Nation’s Strategic Development Plan and might have “little or no lasting impact on the economy”. However, one cannot clearly figure out what “sound public policy” guided the committee’s views and gave Congress the confidence in the vitality of the override.
In short, overriding the President’s vetoes means each Congress Member now has $300,000 to expend until September 30, 2014. And, the FEMA reimbursements on behalf of the states are available out of the general funds of the national government, through the allocations to Congress’ public projects and social programs.
The overridden public law has become Public Law No. 17-68.