OHA’s spending is out-of-control


Source: January 2008 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column

`Ano`ai kakou…  In the last 5 years, OHA’s total operating budget has doubled to $41,094,798 million (Fiscal Year 2008).  Since 2006, the $15.1 million OHA gets from the state for our share of the ceded land revenues goes directly into our operating budget instead of being invested in the Native Hawaiian Trust Fund.  With the crisis situation our people face regarding health, education and housing, the trustees felt that more resources need to be put to use now to help our beneficiaries.

Doubling our budget has meant that OHA has much more money to spend on grants to aid our beneficiaries.  However, the trustees have been irresponsible for continuing to approve grants that should be called into question.  For example, trustees approved a grant to support the state Department of Education (DOE).  On November 1, 2007, an $88,584 grant was approved to support Pauoa Elementary School’s program to improve literacy, critical thinking and comprehensive skills for grades K-5.  This may sound all well and good, but isn’t it the DOE’s kuleana to fund the program?  The same could be said of the $66,334 grant to the University of Hawaii at Hilo to support the expansion of their astronomy center.  Shouldn’t the state be funding this?  The state already receives 20% of the ceded land revenues for public schools and public educational institutions, as described in section 5(f) of the Admissions Act.  Shouldn’t that be enough of a contribution to education by our people?  Maybe what OHA should be doing is to consider a lawsuit against the DOE for not carrying out their responsibilities.  After all, there should be some accountability for all of the funds that they receive.  The state should not be taking another bite at our apple.  Our mission is clear – we are here to serve our beneficiaries. 

Even the federal government is coming to OHA for money.  The trustees recently approved a $100,000 grant to help the Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park restore its fishpond.  Shouldn’t the National Parks Service by paying for this?

Having more grant money has also attracted some slick nonprofits to come to OHA and suck our grant funds with a big straw.  These professional organizations know how to fill out forms quickly and have the staff workers needed to make application deadlines.  I believe they are preventing truly needy, but less technically savvy, Hawaiian organizations from receiving their fair share of assistance.  For example, OHA gave the nonprofit Partners in Development Foundation $100,000 on November 1, 2007 to assist homeless children and another $99,968 on December 6, 2007 to help foster families.  This nonprofit knows how to sell their programs.  For example, they stressed that they were the only nonprofit organization that specifically targets Native Hawaiian foster children.  How could the trustees possibly turn them down at the board table?

The blame for this rests partially with OHA’s administrative staff.  The trustees depend on our administrative staff to do the leg work to make sure that the nonprofits are truly worthy of our beneficiaries’ money, but they keep dropping the ball.  For example, I keep seeing the same organizations coming back to OHA for grant funding year after year, even though our grant policy is to fund programs that are self-sufficient and projects that are “one-shot” proposals.  Our grants are not supposed to be used to keep organizations going.

Our grants department has constantly promised to fix our grant policy, but nothing is ever done.  In the past, OHA required all nonprofits to provide matching funds from other organization.  OHA would then match other contributions dollar-for-dollar.  Now our administration is breaking its own rules by allowing “in-kind” matches with no dollar matches.  Nonprofits are now saying their own staff workers’ salaries are part of the matching funds.  For example, the Alaka’ina Foundation’s $58,067 grant and Street Beat, Inc.’s $100,000 grant were both approved with in-kind matches of their own workers’ salaries – they didn’t get any matching money from other organizations!

The biggest problem with our current grant policy is that we do not require that a follow-up evaluation be done of each grant we approve.  OHA should at least be evaluating the nonprofits who receive massive grants of over $100,000 to make sure our beneficiaries’ money was properly spent, especially for organizations that are repeat requestors.  How hard is it to follow-up with the nonprofits to make sure that the Hawaiians they said would be served were actually served?  Strict grant control rules should apply for all grantees.  At the very least, no grant should be approved that has (1) no real dollar matching fund amounts, (2) no sustainability, and (3) are repeat grant requesters, which obviously proves that they cannot sustain their programs.  Again, this problem rests with the trustees and not just the administrative staff.  As long as the trustees are comfortable with having no rules – none will be applied.  It is just another example of irresponsibility.

I have been assured by our administration that changes will be made and presented to the trustees before the next grant cycle (lets see).  I will continue to follow-up with them and keep you informed. 

On another note: Thank you for your positive responses regarding my December 2007 column.  However, I have received some negative responses from some of my colleagues, which I expected.  HAUOLI MAKA HIKI HOU!