BY MAUREEN N. MARATITA
According to Herbert Johnston Jr., a task force of the Leon Guerrero-Tenorio administration designed to investigate permits and business licenses met its deadline and has already seen at least one recommendation implemented.
Johnston is chairman of the Governor’s Task Force to Reform Permitting Procedures. He is also education director of the Guam Trades Academy.
Other members of the task force are Jenais L.G. Guerrero, contracting officer at Naval Facilities Engineering Command Marianas; Denise M. Mendiola, acting network director of the
Pacific Islands Small Business Development Center Network; John J. Rivera, an assistant professor of public administration at the University of Guam; and Patrick Sherman, an industry development specialist with the Guam Economic Development Authority, who is also an attorney.
The task force had an Aug. 1 deadline to produce a report on both issuance of business licenses and issuance of building permits, which it met.
Johnston told the Journal, “We broke into two committees and every two or three weeks we met as a group.” Artemio “Ricky” Hernandez, deputy administrator of the Guam Economic Development Authority; joined the Business License Subcommittee and Jessie G. Garcia, deputy director of the Department of Public Works, joined the Building Permit Subcommittee, which included Guerrero and Sherman.
“Initially you could feel the pushback,” Johnston said. However, he said the task force asked “the people behind the counters” for their opinions. “We took some of that advice,” he said.
The task force met with the 10 agencies involved in the building permitting process: the Guam Environmental Protection Agency, the Guam Power Authority, the Guam Waterworks Authority, Guam Public Health and Social Services, the Guam Department of Revenue and Taxation, the Guam Department of Land Management, the Guam Fire Department, the Guam Department of Parks & Recreation State Historic Preservation Office, the Guam Department of Agriculture and the Guam Department of Public Works.
After the report was compiled — before it was shown to the governor and the lieutenant governor — agencies had a chance to comment on it, Johnson said. “They kind of appreciated it,” he said.
One of the problems shared with the taskforce was that agencies don’t have enough staff to regulate what they are tasked with, nor do the agencies have a budget to recruit, Johnston said. Agencies said that finding qualified people was difficult.
“One of the ideas that we threw out was allowing these agencies to contract out for the inspections. They would determine who they would find acceptable or unacceptable, and the cost of the inspections would be paid by the applicant, so there would be no cost to the agencies,” he said.
The task force also talked to some of the applicants, Johnston said. “They said, ‘We would pay a little bit more if we could get it done faster.’”
The One Stop Center, which first launched in 1995 and was then sited at DPW, aimed to offer an alternative to the process of visiting multiple agencies and allow for business licenses to be granted there also.
Johnston said it was initially a fulltime offering. “It was there in name, but it was not really functional as a One Stop Center. The idea was — let’s make it functional again and if it’s not cost effective, it will be enough evidence to force an online solution.” That solution would allow permit and business licenses to be applied for online.
The One Stop Center is now open at Public Works and includes the Department of Revenue and Taxation. One next step Johnston said is to, “Take all the forms and make them PDF-fillable, so people can access them online and fill them out.” Additionally he said of the recommendations, “I’m planning to put together another task force to implement them.”
The report’s general recommendations were divided into:
Immediate, for the six months following the Aug. 1 report
Including such measures as reinstating the One Stop Center; converting all physical forms to a uniform digital fillable form and provide applicant access; requiring all agencies to establish process flow charts and measurable standards used in their review process; and establishing a uniform numbering system for each application.
Intermediate, from six to 24 months
Including establishing a third-party case management for applicant guidance; establishing a concurrent agency review procedure; reviewing all agency mandates — including an annual fee review (allowed for by Guam law); considering a one-fee application structure to be disbursed to all agencies; and review all agency standards for conflicting requirement.
Long-term, from 24 to 48 months
Including establishing an online application process; establishing and funding and electing a non-agency entity to drive the creation of a unified service platform with recurrent maintenance, upgrading and licensing funded by application fees.
Building permit recommendations were similarly divided. Those recommendations included considering a self-certification application program for engineers and architects (such as exists in Phoenix, Ariz); and simplifying the process for simple projects and plans.
Business licensing recommendations included an automatic expiration for expired business licenses; not requiring businesses to obtain separate licenses for each event; and an umbrella license for events that incorporates all vendors at an event.
The task force also recommended contracted health inspectors.
The report concluded that due to time constraints it did not cover many details and intricacies of processes, which would need an associated review.
It also said further discussion is warranted with agencies on their concerns. The report contains details of meetings, typical workload of agencies and their reactions to ideas of the task force.
Subscribers can find the full report at www.mbjguam.com in Reports and Data. mbj