OMB, OPM, Finance asked about furloughs, extra pay

Posted on Jul 30 2020


The government-wide furloughs in the midst of exempt employees getting extra pay was the center of an oversight hearing the House Special Committee on Federal Assistance and Disaster Related Funding did last Tuesday on the CNMI government’s COVID-19 response efforts.

The Torres administration—represented by special assistant for Management and Budget Virginia Villagomez, Office of Personnel Management acting director Frances Salas, and Department of Finance Secretary David Atalig—were asked on what they know about any overtime, additional pay, or dual compensation that Cabinet members may have received, as well as the furlough of personnel.

According to Salas, she was tasked to put the list of furloughed employees together, as submitted by the different departments, and to work with Villagomez to ensure both offices have the “right information,” which she assumed was necessary for the preparation of the budget. Salas disclosed, though, that she noticed alterations on the list during the process of cross-checking with Villagomez. “When I went to OMB to do cross check, I did notice there were some names that were added, and then some names were deleted,” she said.

When asked whether she knew who made the changes, Salas said, “I don’t know, I’m not sure. …She [Villagomez] also had this so I basically modified my list to match what she had because I didn’t get any notice from any other department stating that a certain person is removed or called back.”

After the furloughs, OPM, according to Salas, released a memorandum stating and directing all department and activity heads that if they are to recall anyone, an approved notice must be provided, so the department could have an accurate accounting as to who were furloughed or not.

She also agreed that, contrary to what was stated in the letters for furloughed personnel, these employees have the “right to appeal,” given that furloughs of more than 30 calendar days fall under “reduction-in-force” actions, where appeals are warranted.

Atalig, on the other hand, who was asked to explain payments made to personnel under the COVID-19 operations, acknowledged that there were government employees who received dual compensations.

“In the beginning, I was controlling that, and only paid above the [administrative leave] of 64 hours. Anything above that I was allowing…in the early stages of COVID-19. After a few weeks passed, [there were] other compensation requests or requests for payments in terms of overtime or additional pay. …Then I was informed when I started to see the numbers of how much we paid, and those were double pay for all COVID front-liners and everyone that worked,” he said.

He said that there were Cabinet members who received double payments, and added that he did not consult any lawyer prior to authorizing the compensation, or for anything related to COVID-19, other than purchases that needed to go through the Office of the Attorney General.

Atalig said the basis for the compensation was previous disasters, and his understanding of what the Federal Emergency Management Agency would reimburse, as well as the Public Assistance Office. “I tried to keep that at a minimum, with that understanding of what is allowable and not allowable. If it’s not allowable, and in this case, if it’s not any positions directly involved in the actual COVID-19 mitigation and response, then that is not considered reimbursable to FEMA,” he added.

With $36 million funding from CARES Act received by the Commonwealth, over $54 million obligated within the general fund to help with the pandemic, and the $93 million FEMA funding the CNMI intends to access, the special committee hold it a responsibility to track and carefully review records of expenditures to make sure all funds are optimized.

Iva Maurin | Correspondent
Iva Maurin is a communications specialist with environment and community outreach experience in the Philippines and in California. She has a background in graphic arts and is the Saipan Tribune’s community and environment reporter. Contact her at

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