GAO Finds Compact Aid Estimates Unreliable


(Government Accountability Office)

“The Government Accountability Office is the audit, evaluation, and investigative arm of the United States Congress”, and they reported recently that current Compact Impact estimates were unreliable.

Hawaii, Guam, and CNMI estimated that they spent a combined $1 billion to support COFA (Compact of Free Association) migrants from 2004 to 2010. Out of this cost, they only received $210 million in Compact Impact Aid from the US federal government, which is a $700 million shortfall. These three jurisdictions claimed that the $700 million deficit was cleared using their own funds. The costs went into education, health, and social services. Education accounted for most of the expense, with health coming in second.

However, the $1 billion estimate is being argued. Recent assessments by the GAO have found “limitations” in “accuracy, adequate documentation, and comprehensiveness”. These limitations could affect the total estimate, and could add or reduce the total cost.

Examples of these “limitations” include the lack of an accurate definition of a COFA migrant. Who are considered COFA migrants? Are children of COFA migrants who are born in these areas and become citizens of these areas added or excluded in the report? If migrants’ children were included in the estimate this would increase the total cost. Some reports did not include expenditures to expand schools and hospital facilities to accommodate growth of COFA populations; this too would increase the estimate.

Additional examples of "limitations": not including other federal fundings that would reduce the total cost. Some reports did not consider migrant contributions such as paying taxes, participating in the labor-force, and local purchases of goods, these would decrease the total. Some reports gave “average per-person” estimates to services. For example, they did not calculate the cost of individual persons' health care expenses, rather they counted the number of migrant patients versus non-migrants and took an average. This could increase or decrease the total number.

Other problems include inefficient estimates for COFA migrants studying in Hawaii and errors such as double counting Marshallese students in the state. These inefficiencies meant that there was an overestimate of about $60 million from 2004 to 2008 in the state of Hawaii. 

Some government agencies did not explain their methods of gathering data. Others gave incomplete reports.

Ultimately, the GAO found that Hawaii, Guam, and the CNMI gave inadequate reports.


These inadequate reports have had consequences. The controversial Basic Health Hawaii was enacted under such reports and news stations are still stating numbers from these "unreliable" sources. 

Hawaii news station KITV, reported in May 2013 a cost estimate of "$115 million a year" to provide healthcare for COFA migrants in Hawaii (see video 1 below). Days later, that estimate was reported at "$43 million" (see video 2 below). Conflicting reports such as this from inadequate sources are leaving citizens and COFA migrants frustrated and confused.

(attempts to contact KITV to explain their estimates have gone unanswered)

(Video 1: see the first minute of the video)

(Video 2: the statement is made at 1:05)