U.S. DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR
WASHINGTON, D.C. (February 24, 2017) – Deputy Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs, Justin R. Clark, Senior White House Advisor Douglas W. Domenech, and Acting Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Areas Nikolao I. Pula Jr. met today with Guam Governor Eddie Calvo, U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth Mapp and American Samoa Governor Lolo Moliga at the 2017 Senior Plenary Session of the Interagency Group on Insular Areas. Hosted at the Department of the Interior, the annual conference discussed health and financial concerns for the territories.
The Deputy Assistant to the President spoke about his growing interest in the U.S. territories and his serving as the principal point of contact for the Governors in the Trump Administration. The Senior White House Advisor reminded attendees that, having served as Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Areas from January 2008 to January 2009, he was not a stranger to the territories and referred to the many briefings that the Office of Insular Affairs has already provided him on the various challenges and opportunities that the territories are encountering.
In his remarks, Acting Assistant Secretary Pula asked all attendees to remember a major political leader of the Pacific who often participated at IGIA plenary sessions, Congressman Eni Hunkin Faleomavaega of American Samoa, who died on Wednesday, February 22. Congressman Eni served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 26 years, and the Acting Assistant Secretary declared that American Samoa, the Pacific in general and the peoples throughout the U.S. territories have lost a champion.
Governor Calvo focused his comments on the challenges that well-intentioned but misaligned federal policies and regulations impose on the territories’ ability to foster economic development and fiscal sustainability. He said immigration, environmental, and tax policies in the territories should be guided by the unique circumstances of the territories and not by the norms of the continental United States.
Governor Mapp addressed the great need for increased federal infrastructure investment in the territories. He noted that the population based formulas that determine the allocation of federal infrastructure investment severely handicap the territories’ abilities to develop sustainable economic development and achieve greater financial self-sufficiency. He also called for greater attention on the open borders of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, and the need for greater investment in securing the territories against potential threats.
Governor Lolo commented on his hope that the new national discussions on health care reform will lead to more relevant and impactful solutions for improving the access and availability of affordable and quality health care in the territories. He emphasized that the overall federal approach to health care continues to treat the territories as if they have the same conditions and capacities of states.
All governors saw great potential for the Interagency Group on Insular Areas to assist in addressing and resolving many of the issues discussed and they were looking forward for additional opportunities to collaborate with federal agencies and working towards solutions.
Officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provided an update on the Department’s extensive work in the U.S. territories, and U.S. Department of the Treasury officials gave a presentation on the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act and that legislation’s possible application under certain, specific circumstances to the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.
The Interagency Group on Insular Areas was established to ensure coordination and collaboration among federal agencies in addressing issues of concern to the U.S. territories of Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Mariana Islands. The group is organized through Executive Order 13537 (April 14, 2010) and is co-chaired by the White House Director for Intergovernmental Affairs and the Secretary of the Interior.
The Secretary of the Interior is responsible for coordinating federal policy with respect to the territories of the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and administering and overseeing U.S. federal assistance provided to the freely associated states of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau under the Compacts of Free Association. The Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas, through the Office of Insular Affairs (OIA), executes these responsibilities on behalf of the Secretary. The OIA mission is to foster economic opportunities, promote government efficiency, and improve the quality of life for the people of the insular areas.