Thanks to technology, people and parties who are geographically separated by oceans and national borders can engage in conversations or negotiate on even the toughest of issues without having to pay for airfare and hotel accommodations, not to mention meals and other trip-related costs.
There's video conferencing and there are various applications for virtual meetings. Formal agreements can be signed digitally too.
The technology for virtual meetings and conferences has gotten much better over time.
For hands-on training, it's not necessary for the government of Guam to send a big group to the states. GovGuam can send one representative to attend and that person can return to train others.
However, certain GovGuam elected officials and bureaucrats continue to ignore the advantages of using technology for long-distance meetings as a cost-saving measure. And there have been a number of instances when moderation wasn't the norm when it comes to sending people for training on the public's tab.
They opt for the more expensive travel involving multiple people for a conference that involves paying airfare, per diem, hotel accommodations and other expenses.
As an example, a Department of Public Works travel report shows the agency spent more than $48,000 between March 30 and April 5 to send 10 people to a road safety conference. Five of the people who went were DPW administrators, three represented the Guam Police Department and two represented the Guam Fire Department. The police and fire department representatives have a more valid reason to go on this government-funded trip, apparently with federal funds, but we question whether it was necessary for a deputy director and four DPW managers to go. This road safety conference took place in Louisville, Kentucky. Some of the items on the conference agenda included raising awareness among teen and senior citizen drivers. Surely the Guam contingent didn't need 10 people for that. Traveling on the public tab should not be the norm, even if it's federally funded – as was the case with the Kentucky trip.
In another example, during the waning weeks and months of then-Gov. Eddie Calvo's administration, the Guam Economic Development Authority, while facing a deficit – for spending more money than the revenues coming in – spent more than $61,000 reported in the last three months of the administration. Of the $61,000, an amount of $26,062 was due to the previous GEDA administrator's travel expenses for Hawaii and Washington, D.C., itineraries. The former governor's chief financial adviser racked up $12,768 in GEDA-paid travel that was also reported in the last three months of the prior administration.
This new administration has done some traveling too. While Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero does need to travel, Guam taxpayers shouldn't have had to pay her spouse's $5,171 business class airfare and $836 per diem when the governor traveled to San Francisco for bond-related meetings and the National Governors Association meeting in Washington, D.C. Even if it's allowed by law, the first gentleman has the option of not taking it.
In another recent example, several Leon Guerrero administration officials traveled to find out how Hawaii handles its homeless problem, even when the number of officials on the trip and the amount spent on airfare and hotels for them could have paid for many actual hot meals for the homeless.
There are many more publicly funded trips to look into.
We have not even started counting the autonomous agency travels, with the Guam Visitors Bureau spending $844,689 for its recent audited year and Guam Power Authority spending $338,664 – both increases from prior years.
There must be a certain level of hesitation these GovGuam officials and personnel feel when they travel at the public's expense – especially when the trip didn't have to involve multiple travelers and so many per diem days.
We urge the Office of Public Accountability to audit every government department, agency and all three branches of GovGuam, and how much was spent on travel over the last five years. The public needs to know who traveled, how much was spent, what miscellaneous items taxpayers paid for and the reasons for these trips.