Procurement oversight raises additional questions

QUARANTINE SITE: The Pacific Star Resort & Spa, pictured on May 10, served as the primary government of Guam quarantine facility from March to May for the COVID-19 pandemic. David Castro/The Guam Daily Post

There’s a gap between procurement law and the public health Emergency Powers Act that Adelup senior staffers said is what authorized the governor to procure hotels for COVID-19 quarantine and isolation facilities, said procurement committee chairwoman Sen. Sabina Perez.

The overarching goal of Thursday’s oversight hearing was to focus on the emergency procurement process itself, she stated the day after the hearing, which was attended by procurement, emergency response and public health officials, as well as the governor’s legal counsel and policy director.

Perez said the committee wanted to ensure the government of Guam is following protocols consistent with local and federal guidelines for the reimbursement of emergency services.

“While I believe procurement efforts were undertaken in good faith, there is nevertheless a clear gap between procurement law and the Emergency Powers Act,” Perez stated. “The challenges brought to light during the oversight hearing elucidate these shortcomings. We must work to understand these mishaps and differences in legal interpretation, and use this knowledge to improve our efforts.”

During the hearing, various executive branch officials testified that while Adelup took the lead in reaching out to hotels, working closely with Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association’s Mary Rhodes, it was Homeland Security that eventually took the lead in procuring the Pacific Start Resort & Spa, Wyndham Hotel and Days Inn.

However, Homeland Security Advisor Tim Aguon wasn’t at the hearing to fill in the blanks. Perez said she may call another oversight hearing and invite him to help address the concerns raised on Thursday.

Claudia Acfalle of the General Services Agency, the government’s procurement arm, said she didn’t play a role in procuring the hotels or the ancillary services.

Additional questions about payments to hotels without a government contract were raised.

“And the results that we see in the news is the belated payment of invoices which is somehow related to the lack of contract,” Perez stated.

“Are there contracts that exist for those facilities?” Perez asked Acfalle, who responded: “Not to my knowledge.”

Perez asked Acfalle whether GSA will step in now to address procurement concerns. 

“From my understanding ... they are already at the point of invoices so I don’t really want to get into a mess that I wasn’t aware of,” Acfalle further responded.

Other services

Rhodes said her role was strictly to help Adelup connect with local hotels. And some of that work, which falls in line with the pandemic plan, started in January. Though there were no hotels that responded positively to the call to serve as a quarantine facility, she said.

“In January and early February – it was our task to see which hotels would operate, not just for quarantine for mass scale but for quarantine floors in case we had tourists come in and they had to quarantine at the hotel,” Rhodes said.

She said in March, Aguon called her with a more urgent request for help as the Philippines was shutting down its airport.

She said she spoke to Days Inn, Wyndham, Core Tech, and Hotel Santa Fe. She wasn’t present for meetings with Pacific Star, which joined discussions late.

Rhodes raised another issue, that was how the rest of the pandemic response coordination had been documented.

“How did they procure the whole thing, because if you’re questioning one aspect of it all of the other working parts of it should be questioned as well, or how did those sources be funded or approved to be at the hotel without the hotel being authorized?”

“Because the hotels weren’t the only providers here. There were other agencies that were stood up and I was the only non-governmental private sector portion – although I understand the procurement laws and the procurement rules (are different) under an emergency ... I would question the same thing for all the support services including laundry. How did all that get approved. And the meals?”

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