Controller pleads for funds to manage the CARE Act money
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz.
With less than 13 weeks left until the Dec. 30 deadline to spend the $714 million of CARES Act funding, the controller’s office on Tuesday issued a press release citing its understaffed workers and the need for funds to administer the grants.
Navajo Nation has only spent some $30 million thus far, according to the office.
“The controller’s office is responsible for ensuring compliance and reporting requirements of the grant,” the release says, “but has not received additional funding to properly address the added responsibilities of the CARES Act funds despite pleading with tribal leadership numerous times.”
On July 31, the Navajo Nation Council approved funding for the controller’s office through Legislation No. CJY-67-20, but it was line-item vetoed by the president. Since then, it has been resubmitted as Legislation No. 197-20 and is pending approval.
“We cannot continue to expend resources we do not have,” said Pearline Kirk, the controller.
The fund contains many restrictions on spending and mandates to follow federal award terms and conditions.
“Included is a requirement to incur eligible expenses by Dec. 30 or the unspent fund balance must be returned to the U.S. Treasury,” the release says.
“The administrative burden associated with managing and expending this fund in a compliant manner in a short period is significant,” said Kirk.
The annual budget for the Navajo Nation is approximately $650 million, of which $340 million is received from federal grants subject to uniform guidance.
“With the addition of $714 million in coronavirus relief funds, this increases the workload nearly 210% to properly process and comply with federal and tribal grant requirements in less than three months,” the release states.
The 120 employees of the controller’s office have other duties and responsibilities, including coordinating the fiscal year-end close, processing continuing budget resolutions and completing annual audits.
“The Office of the Controller is already understaffed when compared to other governmental entities of similar size and complexity,” said Kirk, comparing the city of Albuquerque’s 300 finance and accounting professionals.
“The administrative capabilities of the office are being stretched beyond their limits,” she said.
The controller’s office is deemed an essential division and has been working throughout the pandemic, even during the shutdowns, to maintain critical operations including accounts payable, payroll and purchasing.
“This required management to seek assistance from outside parties to assist with expeditiously processing these funds while also maintaining and monitoring compliance for the Navajo Nation,” explained Kirk. “This has all been done through competitive solicitations resulting from an unfunded mandate for the controller to oversee the compliance of the spending of coronavirus relief funds.”
“In order to carry out our goals and objectives for the $714 million received, we must maintain a steadfast focus on holding ourselves accountable,” said Kirk.
“To that end, we are committed to provide the much-needed assistance to those members of the Navajo Nation that have been most impacted by the coronavirus,” she said.
“In order to achieve that objective, we must ensure we are adhering to established policies and procedures, particularly those that address administration of federal award programs in order to maintain our fiduciary responsibility to the Navajo Nation and the federal government,” she said.
“The Office of the Controller stands ready to serve the Navajo Nation and carry out our duties while maintaining internal controls over these federal programs while maintaining compliance but we need resources — we need a budget,” said Kirk. “We urge the president to consider the budget request and help us help the Navajo people.”