Bookmark and Share
Overview:
The Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) is part of the United States Department of the Interior. The OIA oversees federal administration of the United States possessions of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the US Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau.
more
History:
 
The OIA is the successor office of the Bureau of Insular Affairs in the State Department which administered certain territories from 1902 to 1939 and the Office of Territorial Affairs in the Department of the Interior which was responsible for certain territories from the 1930s to the 1990s.
 
Today’s Office of Insular Affairs was created on August 4, 1995, by Secretary’s Order No. 3191 and effectively closed two of the five field offices; this move cut employees from 45 to 25 with cost savings at $1.2 million annually.
 
The acquisition process of each of the territories differs; there are five internationally recognized ways of acquiring insular areas: cession, occupation, accretion, subjugation, and prescription. Using both cession and occupation the United States has currently acquired sixteen territories. These histories can be read here.
 
The Possessions
American Samoa - American Samoa is part of the Samoan Island chain located west of the Cook Islands and north of Tonga and includes the islands of Tutuila, Manu’a Islands, Rose Atoll, and Swains Island. Inhabited as early as 1000 BC, American Samoa’s history is connected with that of the independent state of Samoa and its chief system. Europeans did not reach Samoa until the 18th century. French explorers were the first to arrive, followed by Christian missionaries in the 1830s led by John Williams. Germans later found the islands and collided with American warships in 1889, starting a bitter rivalry. In 1899 the Treaty of Berlin, signed by Germany and the United Kingdom, renounced possession of the eastern islands of Samoa to the United States. The US Navy later secured deeds of cession from the islands of Tutuila and Aunu’u on April 17, 1900, followed by Manu’a cession to the United States on July 16, 1904. Swains Island was incorporated into American Samoa in 1925 through a joint resolution in Congress.
 
American Samoa is considered an unincorporated territory of the United States because not all the provisions of the Constitution apply to it. This means that Congress gave authority over the territory to the Secretary of the Interior, who in turn allowed the American Samoans to draft their own constitution for their government. American Samoa is therefore an unofficial “self-governing” territory as of July 1, 1967. The 2007 population estimate was 57,663.
 
Additionally, American Samoa is divided into three districts (eastern, western, and Manu’a) and two “unorganized” atolls (Rose Atoll and Swains Island). Their economy is based heavily on the exportation of tuna from StarKist and Chicken of the Sea canneries, which are the second largest employers after the US Government. American Samoans live primarily off of US imports, spending 40% of their income on imported food.
 
Guam - The largest and southern-most of the Mariana Islands, Guam’s first inhabitants are said to have arrived over 6000 years ago, but contact with Western civilization began in 1521 when Ferdinand Magellan reached the island, with Spanish colonization beginning in 1668. During the 1898 Spanish-American War, the United States took control of the island, but during World War II, the Japanese seized Guam and occupied the island for two and a half years. Guam was recaptured in July 1944 and the US Naval Administration resumed responsibility.
 
Guam is an organized, unincorporated territory of the United States. While not all the provisions of the Constitution apply to Guam, its “organized” status, through the Organic Act of 1950, allows Congress to organize a government, much like a constitution would. Thus, the people of Guam are considered American citizens. This Organic Act also moved administrative responsibilities from the Secretary of the Navy to the Secretary of the Interior.
 
Guam’s economy primarily relies on tourism and military expenditures, with military bases covering roughly 30% of the island’s total land area. While Guam does not receive any federal aid, it does receive a large sum from the general revenues of the US treasury in which the island pays no income taxes. Guam also receives 90% of its tourists from Japan and its booming hotel business has created some stability. The current population of Guam is about 174,000, with an increase of 25% planned when the US Marine Corps’ Third Marine Expeditionary Force moves from Okinawa to Guam between 2009 and 2013.
 
Guam has also seen some controversy regarding its government court system. In 2002 lobbyist Jack Abramoff allegedly retained a secret contract under the Guam Superior Court to lobby against a bill proposing to put the Superior Court under the Guam Supreme Court. Abramoff allegedly received $324,000 for his work, but an investigation of these claims was called off in 2002 by the Bush administration. For more information on this case see below.
 
Northern Mariana Islands - Populated over 3500 years ago, the Northern Mariana Islands are located halfway between Hawaii and the Philippines and consist of 15 islands. Europeans arrived here in 1521 under explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who also claimed the islands for Spain. Under Spanish rule for roughly 300 years about, 90-95% of the native population died out. In 1899 Spain sold the Northern Mariana Islands to Germany and in 1914 Japan declared war on Germany and invaded the islands at the outbreak of World War I. A mandate by the League of Nations subsequently put the islands under Japanese control in 1920. Under their control until 1945, the Northern Marianas were developed largely for sugar cane processing. Towards the end of World War II, the United States invaded the islands and after the war the islands came under US administration through the United Nations’ Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. In the 1970s the people of the Northern Mariana Islands decided not to seek independence, and in 1975 the islands became a commonwealth with a political union with the US. A new government and constitution went into effect in 1978. Under this status the islands must abide by US federal law and they do have an elected resident representative.
 
The current population is about 85,000. Its economy relies primarily on subsidies and development assistance from the US government. Much of their income comes from the garment manufacturing industry, which enters the US without quotas or duties. However, as a free trade area, the Northern Mariana Islands are also not subjected to any labor laws, making their minimum wage lower than in the United States. A new bill, signed by President Bush in 2007, is set to increase wages gradually until it equals that of the US.
 
Recently, the Northern Mariana Islands made the news with reports of scandals. One again involves Jack Abramoff and former House Majority Leader Tom Delay, who are said to have lobbied so that the islands received special federal subsidies. Congressman Bob Ney is also said to have received free trips to the islands from Abramoff in violation of federal law. Abramoff is involved in yet another controversy in which he and two US representatives lobbied to stop legislation aimed at cracking down on sweatshops and sex shops on the islands in 2001. The Northern Mariana Islands are said to have the most abusive labor practices of any place in the US and its territories.
 
Marshall Islands - Located in the Western Pacific, the Marshall Islands are a territory of the United States (with a claim on Wake Island). Originally settled by the Micronesians, the islands were claimed by Spain in 1592, but left basically untouched until British explorer John Marshall arrived in 1788, giving the islands their name. In 1885 a German trading company settled on the Marshall Islands, becoming part of German New Guinea. During World War I the islands were taken over and administered by the Japanese. World War II brought the islands under US control in 1944 and they were added to the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands in 1947. In 1979 the United States recognized the Constitution of the Marshall Islands and the establishment of their own government. In 1986 the Compact of Free Association granted the Republic of the Marshall Islands sovereignty in exchange for continued nuclear testing. The US would also continue to provide aid and military defense.
 
The islands have been used by the United States for nuclear bomb testing since World War II, testing 66 nuclear weapons between 1946 and 1958. In March 1946 the US Navy evacuated the residents of Bikini Island for their first tests, with subsequent relocations of Enewetak, Rongelap, and Wotho residents in May. In July of that year the “Baker” nuclear tests were conducted underwater and contaminated the target fleet in the Bikini lagoon. In 1948, the Bikini Islanders, who were removed to Rongerik in 1946, were relocated again because they were on the verge of starvation. They were later moved to Kili Island, a single island with no protected lagoon or anchorage. In November 1952 another nuclear test, “Mike,” vaporized one of the Marshall Islands. The force of the bomb was estimated at 10.4 megatons (750 times larger than the Hiroshima bomb).
 
In January 1954 preparations began on Bikini Atoll for Operation Castle to test megaton range weapons. On March 1 the Bravo hydrogen bomb was dropped, estimated at more than 1000 times the force of the Hiroshima bomb. Fallout from the explosion landed on the islands of Rongerik and Utrik with those exposed experiencing nausea, vomiting, and itchy skin and eyes. The test also poisoned the crew of a Japanese fishing boat. On March 7, Project 4.1 established a secret medical group to monitor and evaluate those affected. May 1956 brought more nuclear testing to the island of Enewetak, with the US giving the islanders (relocated to Ujelang) $25,000 cash and a $150,000 trust fund as compensation. In 1957 Rongelap was declared safe for rehabilitation “in spite of slight lingering radiation.” The last nuclear detonation occurred in August 18, 1958, ending testing in the Marshall Islands. In 1963, reports of thyroid tumors began appearing among the Rongelap people, as well as higher levels of retardation among young Rongelap islanders, and in 1966 the US Congress approved an extra payment of $950,000 for injuries resulting from the 1954 Bravo test. The after-effects of the testing continued, with a 1973 draft report by the US Atomic Energy Commission (not released to the public) concluding that the Bravo fallout may have contaminated as many as 18 atolls and islands, and a 1977 survey suggesting some Bikini ground wells were still too radioactive for safe use. In September 1978, the 139 people living on Bikini Island were removed and given a $6 million trust fund, with a second trust fund of $20 million dollars being established in 1982 after a class action lawsuit (an additional $90 million was appropriated during the late 1980s). In 1996, the Nuclear Claims Tribunal reported that it would receive roughly $100 million in personal injury claims by 2001, with nearly all of its $45 million fund already spent.
 
Today the Marshall Islands are home to the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test site, the largest employer of the islands. This site is an important income source because the Marshall Islands’ income is primarily based on government assistance. The islands also have some income from the production of coconuts, tomatoes, melons, and breadfruit. Additionally, the Marshall Islands are one of the territories not covered by the International Labor Organization of the United Nations and are thus exempt from core labor standards such as forced labor, child labor standards, and the right to collective bargaining.
 
The Federated States of Micronesia - The Federated States of Micronesia are a sovereign state in free association with the United States. Settled more than 4,000 years ago, the islands are located in the Pacific Ocean, northeast of Papua New Guinea and were first discovered by the Portuguese in 1525. The Spanish soon came in search of the Caroline Islands and claimed sovereignty over them. In 1899 Spain withdrew from its Pacific insular areas and sold them to Germany (with the exception of Guam, which they sold to the United States). In 1914 the islands were captured by Japan during World War I and then seized by the United States during World War II. The US assumed responsibility under the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands in 1947. When this occurred, the four islands of Pohnpei, Chuuk, Yap, and Kosrae became the Federated States of Micronesia. In 1986 the islands signed a Compact of Free Association with the United States, marking their independence, but with the United States retaining responsibility for defense. The Federated States are governed by a 1979 constitution that establishes a separation of governmental powers and a unicameral Congress with 14 members elected by popular vote.
 
The islands’ economy is based primarily on subsistence farming and fishing, with a few mineral deposits worth exploiting. However, the primary souce of income is financial assistance from the US, with the US pledging more than $1.3 billion between 1986 and 2001. The Federated States of Micronesia is presently dealing with such problems as large-scale unemployment, over-fishing, and dependence on US aid.
 
Palau - Republic of Palau is an island nation located east of the Philippines. First Western contact with the island occurred in 1783 when British Captain Henry Wilson was shipwrecked. While the British dominated trade with the islands, Spain had control of Palau until 1899 when, following Spain’s defeat in the Spanish-American War, they sold the islands to Germany. In 1914 the Japanese seized the islands during World War I, with the US capturing them during World War II and placing them under the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. In 1979 Palau voted against being part of the Federated States of Micronesia because of language and cultural differences. There followed a long period of transition, including the violent deaths of two presidents, and in 1994 residents voted to freely associate with the United States but retain independence under the Compact of Free Association. Since that time, Palau has been recognized as a sovereign nation and a full-fledged member of the United Nations, and it conducts its own foreign relations. However, the US is responsible for its defense until 2044.
 
In 1981 Palau voted to have the world’s first nuclear-free constitution. However this delayed its independence because the United States would not agree to the anti-nuclear clause, so the UN would not remove US trusteeship. The Palauans were granted their sovereignty in 1994 after the clause was repealed. A 2007 controversy emerged in Palau when Chinese officials offered economic opportunities to Palau if they transferred their diplomatic relations from Taiwan to China. Currently Taiwan gives Palau technical aid and economic stimulus grants, while owning a large percentage of the island’s hotel and tourist interests.
 
Palau’s economy is based primarily on tourism, subsistence farming, and fishing, with the government being a major employer because of the assistance it receives from the US. With a population of roughly 21,000, Palau enjoys a per-capita income almost twice the amount of the Philippines.
 
The Palmyra and Wake Atolls - In 2001, the Office of Insular Affairs allowed the US Fish and Wildlife Service to administer the majority of the Palmyra Atoll, with the exception of nine areas, including certain tidal and submerged lands. As an incorporated yet unorganized territory of the US, the Palmyra Atoll is subject to all provisions under the Constitution, yet Congress has passed no legislation on how to govern it except that the President may use his discretion. With no indigenous population on the island, Palmyra is privately owned by the Nature Conservatory, which bought most of the atoll from Honolulu’s Fullard-Leo family in 2000, and manages it as a nature reserve. Most research is done on coral reef conservation, and in 2005 a worldwide team of scientists joined the Nature Conservatory in launching a new research station to study global warming, disappearing coral reefs, invasive species, and other environmental threats.
 
The Wake Atoll is an unorganized, unincorporated territory of the US, administered by the OIA. Access to the islands is restricted, with all activities managed by the US Air Force and Army. The site of many World War II military encounters between the Japanese and the United States, the Wake Atoll was used for strategic defense and operations during the Cold War. Since 1974 Wake Island (the largest in the atoll) has served as grounds for launching military rockets involved in testing anti-missile systems and atmospheric re-entry trials. The Wake Atoll is also claimed by the Marshall Islands (one of the United States’ freely associated states) leaving some ambiguity regarding the US military’s role on the island and as a defender of the Marshall Islands.
 
US Virgin Islands - Part of the archipelago of the Virgin Islands, of which the other half is administered by the United Kingdom, the US Virgin Islands are located in the Caribbean Sea. Consisting of three main islands, Saint Croix, Saint John, and Saint Thomas, as well as several minor islands, the Virgin Islands archipelago were named for Saint Ursula and her virgin followers by Christopher Columbus in 1493. Over the next three hundred years, the islands were under various European powers, including Spain, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and finally Denmark-Norway. The Danish West Indian Company began colonization of St. Thomas in 1671 and St. John in 1684, becoming royal Danish colonies in 1754. Denmark purchased St. Croix from France in 1733. During World War I the United States was worried that Germany would seize the islands and so sought to buy them from Denmark. After much debate, the islands were sold to the US in 1917 for $25 million. In 1944 Water Island was sold to the US for $10,000. US citizenship was granted to the inhabitants in 1927. In 1931 the Virgin Islands of the United States were placed under the administration of the Department of the Interior and in 1936 the US passed an Organic Act establishing a local government for the islands. In 1970 legislation was passed to allow the Virgin Islands to democratically elect their own government.
 
Tourism is the primary means of income for the Virgin Islands, hosting more than 2 million tourists a year. The islands also have a manufacturing sector, consisting of rum, oil refining, watch assembly, and pharmaceuticals. Hovensa, one of the world’s largest petroleum refineries, is located on St. Croix and supplies most of the oil, heating, and gasoline to the US Gulf Coast and the eastern seaboard. The current population is roughly 109,000 residents.
more
What it Does:
 
The Office of Insular Affairs currently has administrative responsibility for coordinating federal policy in the territories of American Samoa, Guam, the US Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, as well as the oversight of federal programs and funds in the freely associated states of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau. Additionally OIA exercises some control in two of the nine smaller insular areas of Palmyra and the Wake Atolls. 
 
The OIA works on behalf of the Secretary of the Interior, whose executive orders place the territories under the supervision of the Office of Insular Affairs. Executive orders gave control to the OIA of the US Virgin Islands in1931, Guam in 1950, American Samoa in 1951, and the Northern Mariana Islands in 1986. The US Virgin Islands control was revised in 1954.
 
In order to facilitate these responsibilities, the OIA has multiple initiatives. The Island Business Opportunities initiative involves each of the territories and their economic development. Each year a conference is held and works to network island governments with each other, as well as business and government leaders in the United States and the Pacific-Asian region to build up their resources. Topics at these conferences include infrastructure development, tourism opportunities, renewable energy, and specialty agriculture. The Department of the Interior aims to facilitate communication among organizations, projects, companies and the islands.
 
The Brown Treesnake Program is a control and research program on the island of Guam, where brown treesnakes have become invasive. OIA works with other agencies, including the Department of Defense and the Department of Agriculture, in funding the effort to control the population and reduce damages caused by the snakes. The Coral Reef Initiative is an effort by the Department of the Interior and OIA to protect the coal reefs around the US insular islands. In partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the OIA provides technical assistance and direct grants to these areas for coral reef ecosystem conservation.
 
The OIA’s Interagency Group on Insular Areas (IGIA) was re-established in 2003 by President Bush to coordinate federal policies toward these territories. The agency consists of the heads of the governmental departments in the executive branch, as well as those heads of agencies the Department of the Interior wants. They will meet with the territorial governors to identify issues and make recommendations with each other.
 
Additionally, the OIA provides information on the activities and events sponsored by the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. This initiative works to increase economic opportunities for and improve the lives of those Asian American and Pacific Islander individuals living in the United States and its territorial islands.
 
OIA Initiatives
-        Browntree Snake Program
-        Coral Reef Initiative
 
Island Information
-        All OIA Jurisdictions
-        Islanders in the Military

-        Grants to the Outer Pacific

more
Controversies:
Who Owns What?
During the 20th century, the United States disputed with other countries the status of their claims on certain islands and atolls. While all of these arguments have been settled, more information on past conflicts can be found here.

China Makes Bid for Recognition by Palau

(by David Miho, Pacific Magazine)

more

Comments

Leave a comment

captcha

Founded: 1902
Annual Budget: $402 million
Employees: 25
Official Website: http://www.doi.gov/oia/
Office of Insular Affairs
Kia’aina, Esther
Assistant Secretary

On September 11, 2013, President Barack Obama nominated Esther P. Kia’aina to be assistant secretary for Insular Affairs in the Department of the Interior. On behalf of the Interior Secretary, the assistant secretary for Insular Affairs coordinates federal policy for the territories of American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The assistant secretary administers and oversees 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.

 

Kia’aina’s nomination was approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on December 19, 2013. She is awaiting approval from the full Senate before assuming her duties.

 

One of the islands Kia’aina will administer is her birthplace, Guam. She was born there July 16, 1963. Her parents were of Hawaiian ancestry, but her father was a civilian employee of the U.S. Navy on Guam. Kia’aina attended elementary school and junior high on Guam. For high school, she attended the prestigious Kamehameha schools in Hawaii.

 

Kia’aina went further afield for her post-secondary education, graduating from the University of Southern California with a B.A. in international relations and political science in 1985, receiving an M.A. from Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies in 1988 and a J.D. from The George Washington University in 1998.

 

Starting in 1990, Kia’aina was a legislative assistant for Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii). She served in that role until 1999, when she went to work for Delegate Robert Underwood (D-Guam) as his chief of staff. Subsequently, she was chief of staff for Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii) from 2004 to 2006.

 

After that, she worked for Kamehameha Schools as land asset manager, and subsequently for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

 

In 2012, Kia’aina ran for the Democratic nomination for Hawaii’s 2nd district. That seat was vacated by Mazie Hirono, who ran for and won a U.S. Senate seat. Kia’aina lost her race, placing third. She was then appointed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie to be deputy director of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, a position she held until her Interior Department nomination.

-Steve Straehley

 

To Learn More:

Statement of Esther P. Kiaaina Nominee for the Position of Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas (pdf)

Confirmation Hearing (U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources)

more
Babauta, Tony
Previous Assistant Secretary

Anthony Marion (Tony) Babauta was confirmed as the Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Affairs on September 10, 2009.  He oversees federal administration of the United States possessions of Guam, the Commonwealth of Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI), the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa. Babauta is the first native islander to hold this position, which the Obama administration raised to Assistant Secretary status for the first time since 1994. 

 
Babauta, born in 1969 in Agat, Guam, is the son of Antonio and Mary Babauta. Although his father’s military career caused him to grow up in various locales, his family came back to Guam when he was high school age, and he graduated from Father Dueñas Memorial School, an all-boys Catholic High School in Mangilao, Guam, in 1987. He left Guam for Spokane, Washington, earning his B.A. in Communications from Gonzaga University in 1991. 
 
Returning home to Guam after graduation, Babauta commenced his career in public service in the Guam Legislature, initially with Territorial Senator Elizabeth Arriola and then with Senator Madeleine Bordallo, who later, since 2003, has been the Guamanian Delegate to Congress. In 1998, Babauta moved to Washington, DC, to become a legislative assistant to Guam Delegate Robert Underwood, although he was hired the next year to serve as a professional staff member for the House Committee on Natural Resources, a position he held through 2006. As a result of Democratic victories in the November 2006 Congressional elections, Babauta in 2007 became Majority Staff Director of the Committee’s Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, which exercises oversight regarding the same island possessions for which Babauta now has administrative responsibility. He held that position through May 2009. 
 
Babauta married Barbara J. Bradney in October 2001. The couple has a daughter, Gabriella. A Democrat, Babauta has donated $600 to Democratic candidates since 2001, including $200 to Guam Delegate Robert Underwood (his former employer) in 2001, and $400 to Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo in 2005. 
 
Anthony Babauta (WhoRunsGov, Washington Post)
more
Bookmark and Share
Overview:
The Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) is part of the United States Department of the Interior. The OIA oversees federal administration of the United States possessions of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the US Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau.
more
History:
 
The OIA is the successor office of the Bureau of Insular Affairs in the State Department which administered certain territories from 1902 to 1939 and the Office of Territorial Affairs in the Department of the Interior which was responsible for certain territories from the 1930s to the 1990s.
 
Today’s Office of Insular Affairs was created on August 4, 1995, by Secretary’s Order No. 3191 and effectively closed two of the five field offices; this move cut employees from 45 to 25 with cost savings at $1.2 million annually.
 
The acquisition process of each of the territories differs; there are five internationally recognized ways of acquiring insular areas: cession, occupation, accretion, subjugation, and prescription. Using both cession and occupation the United States has currently acquired sixteen territories. These histories can be read here.
 
The Possessions
American Samoa - American Samoa is part of the Samoan Island chain located west of the Cook Islands and north of Tonga and includes the islands of Tutuila, Manu’a Islands, Rose Atoll, and Swains Island. Inhabited as early as 1000 BC, American Samoa’s history is connected with that of the independent state of Samoa and its chief system. Europeans did not reach Samoa until the 18th century. French explorers were the first to arrive, followed by Christian missionaries in the 1830s led by John Williams. Germans later found the islands and collided with American warships in 1889, starting a bitter rivalry. In 1899 the Treaty of Berlin, signed by Germany and the United Kingdom, renounced possession of the eastern islands of Samoa to the United States. The US Navy later secured deeds of cession from the islands of Tutuila and Aunu’u on April 17, 1900, followed by Manu’a cession to the United States on July 16, 1904. Swains Island was incorporated into American Samoa in 1925 through a joint resolution in Congress.
 
American Samoa is considered an unincorporated territory of the United States because not all the provisions of the Constitution apply to it. This means that Congress gave authority over the territory to the Secretary of the Interior, who in turn allowed the American Samoans to draft their own constitution for their government. American Samoa is therefore an unofficial “self-governing” territory as of July 1, 1967. The 2007 population estimate was 57,663.
 
Additionally, American Samoa is divided into three districts (eastern, western, and Manu’a) and two “unorganized” atolls (Rose Atoll and Swains Island). Their economy is based heavily on the exportation of tuna from StarKist and Chicken of the Sea canneries, which are the second largest employers after the US Government. American Samoans live primarily off of US imports, spending 40% of their income on imported food.
 
Guam - The largest and southern-most of the Mariana Islands, Guam’s first inhabitants are said to have arrived over 6000 years ago, but contact with Western civilization began in 1521 when Ferdinand Magellan reached the island, with Spanish colonization beginning in 1668. During the 1898 Spanish-American War, the United States took control of the island, but during World War II, the Japanese seized Guam and occupied the island for two and a half years. Guam was recaptured in July 1944 and the US Naval Administration resumed responsibility.
 
Guam is an organized, unincorporated territory of the United States. While not all the provisions of the Constitution apply to Guam, its “organized” status, through the Organic Act of 1950, allows Congress to organize a government, much like a constitution would. Thus, the people of Guam are considered American citizens. This Organic Act also moved administrative responsibilities from the Secretary of the Navy to the Secretary of the Interior.
 
Guam’s economy primarily relies on tourism and military expenditures, with military bases covering roughly 30% of the island’s total land area. While Guam does not receive any federal aid, it does receive a large sum from the general revenues of the US treasury in which the island pays no income taxes. Guam also receives 90% of its tourists from Japan and its booming hotel business has created some stability. The current population of Guam is about 174,000, with an increase of 25% planned when the US Marine Corps’ Third Marine Expeditionary Force moves from Okinawa to Guam between 2009 and 2013.
 
Guam has also seen some controversy regarding its government court system. In 2002 lobbyist Jack Abramoff allegedly retained a secret contract under the Guam Superior Court to lobby against a bill proposing to put the Superior Court under the Guam Supreme Court. Abramoff allegedly received $324,000 for his work, but an investigation of these claims was called off in 2002 by the Bush administration. For more information on this case see below.
 
Northern Mariana Islands - Populated over 3500 years ago, the Northern Mariana Islands are located halfway between Hawaii and the Philippines and consist of 15 islands. Europeans arrived here in 1521 under explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who also claimed the islands for Spain. Under Spanish rule for roughly 300 years about, 90-95% of the native population died out. In 1899 Spain sold the Northern Mariana Islands to Germany and in 1914 Japan declared war on Germany and invaded the islands at the outbreak of World War I. A mandate by the League of Nations subsequently put the islands under Japanese control in 1920. Under their control until 1945, the Northern Marianas were developed largely for sugar cane processing. Towards the end of World War II, the United States invaded the islands and after the war the islands came under US administration through the United Nations’ Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. In the 1970s the people of the Northern Mariana Islands decided not to seek independence, and in 1975 the islands became a commonwealth with a political union with the US. A new government and constitution went into effect in 1978. Under this status the islands must abide by US federal law and they do have an elected resident representative.
 
The current population is about 85,000. Its economy relies primarily on subsidies and development assistance from the US government. Much of their income comes from the garment manufacturing industry, which enters the US without quotas or duties. However, as a free trade area, the Northern Mariana Islands are also not subjected to any labor laws, making their minimum wage lower than in the United States. A new bill, signed by President Bush in 2007, is set to increase wages gradually until it equals that of the US.
 
Recently, the Northern Mariana Islands made the news with reports of scandals. One again involves Jack Abramoff and former House Majority Leader Tom Delay, who are said to have lobbied so that the islands received special federal subsidies. Congressman Bob Ney is also said to have received free trips to the islands from Abramoff in violation of federal law. Abramoff is involved in yet another controversy in which he and two US representatives lobbied to stop legislation aimed at cracking down on sweatshops and sex shops on the islands in 2001. The Northern Mariana Islands are said to have the most abusive labor practices of any place in the US and its territories.
 
Marshall Islands - Located in the Western Pacific, the Marshall Islands are a territory of the United States (with a claim on Wake Island). Originally settled by the Micronesians, the islands were claimed by Spain in 1592, but left basically untouched until British explorer John Marshall arrived in 1788, giving the islands their name. In 1885 a German trading company settled on the Marshall Islands, becoming part of German New Guinea. During World War I the islands were taken over and administered by the Japanese. World War II brought the islands under US control in 1944 and they were added to the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands in 1947. In 1979 the United States recognized the Constitution of the Marshall Islands and the establishment of their own government. In 1986 the Compact of Free Association granted the Republic of the Marshall Islands sovereignty in exchange for continued nuclear testing. The US would also continue to provide aid and military defense.
 
The islands have been used by the United States for nuclear bomb testing since World War II, testing 66 nuclear weapons between 1946 and 1958. In March 1946 the US Navy evacuated the residents of Bikini Island for their first tests, with subsequent relocations of Enewetak, Rongelap, and Wotho residents in May. In July of that year the “Baker” nuclear tests were conducted underwater and contaminated the target fleet in the Bikini lagoon. In 1948, the Bikini Islanders, who were removed to Rongerik in 1946, were relocated again because they were on the verge of starvation. They were later moved to Kili Island, a single island with no protected lagoon or anchorage. In November 1952 another nuclear test, “Mike,” vaporized one of the Marshall Islands. The force of the bomb was estimated at 10.4 megatons (750 times larger than the Hiroshima bomb).
 
In January 1954 preparations began on Bikini Atoll for Operation Castle to test megaton range weapons. On March 1 the Bravo hydrogen bomb was dropped, estimated at more than 1000 times the force of the Hiroshima bomb. Fallout from the explosion landed on the islands of Rongerik and Utrik with those exposed experiencing nausea, vomiting, and itchy skin and eyes. The test also poisoned the crew of a Japanese fishing boat. On March 7, Project 4.1 established a secret medical group to monitor and evaluate those affected. May 1956 brought more nuclear testing to the island of Enewetak, with the US giving the islanders (relocated to Ujelang) $25,000 cash and a $150,000 trust fund as compensation. In 1957 Rongelap was declared safe for rehabilitation “in spite of slight lingering radiation.” The last nuclear detonation occurred in August 18, 1958, ending testing in the Marshall Islands. In 1963, reports of thyroid tumors began appearing among the Rongelap people, as well as higher levels of retardation among young Rongelap islanders, and in 1966 the US Congress approved an extra payment of $950,000 for injuries resulting from the 1954 Bravo test. The after-effects of the testing continued, with a 1973 draft report by the US Atomic Energy Commission (not released to the public) concluding that the Bravo fallout may have contaminated as many as 18 atolls and islands, and a 1977 survey suggesting some Bikini ground wells were still too radioactive for safe use. In September 1978, the 139 people living on Bikini Island were removed and given a $6 million trust fund, with a second trust fund of $20 million dollars being established in 1982 after a class action lawsuit (an additional $90 million was appropriated during the late 1980s). In 1996, the Nuclear Claims Tribunal reported that it would receive roughly $100 million in personal injury claims by 2001, with nearly all of its $45 million fund already spent.
 
Today the Marshall Islands are home to the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test site, the largest employer of the islands. This site is an important income source because the Marshall Islands’ income is primarily based on government assistance. The islands also have some income from the production of coconuts, tomatoes, melons, and breadfruit. Additionally, the Marshall Islands are one of the territories not covered by the International Labor Organization of the United Nations and are thus exempt from core labor standards such as forced labor, child labor standards, and the right to collective bargaining.
 
The Federated States of Micronesia - The Federated States of Micronesia are a sovereign state in free association with the United States. Settled more than 4,000 years ago, the islands are located in the Pacific Ocean, northeast of Papua New Guinea and were first discovered by the Portuguese in 1525. The Spanish soon came in search of the Caroline Islands and claimed sovereignty over them. In 1899 Spain withdrew from its Pacific insular areas and sold them to Germany (with the exception of Guam, which they sold to the United States). In 1914 the islands were captured by Japan during World War I and then seized by the United States during World War II. The US assumed responsibility under the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands in 1947. When this occurred, the four islands of Pohnpei, Chuuk, Yap, and Kosrae became the Federated States of Micronesia. In 1986 the islands signed a Compact of Free Association with the United States, marking their independence, but with the United States retaining responsibility for defense. The Federated States are governed by a 1979 constitution that establishes a separation of governmental powers and a unicameral Congress with 14 members elected by popular vote.
 
The islands’ economy is based primarily on subsistence farming and fishing, with a few mineral deposits worth exploiting. However, the primary souce of income is financial assistance from the US, with the US pledging more than $1.3 billion between 1986 and 2001. The Federated States of Micronesia is presently dealing with such problems as large-scale unemployment, over-fishing, and dependence on US aid.
 
Palau - Republic of Palau is an island nation located east of the Philippines. First Western contact with the island occurred in 1783 when British Captain Henry Wilson was shipwrecked. While the British dominated trade with the islands, Spain had control of Palau until 1899 when, following Spain’s defeat in the Spanish-American War, they sold the islands to Germany. In 1914 the Japanese seized the islands during World War I, with the US capturing them during World War II and placing them under the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. In 1979 Palau voted against being part of the Federated States of Micronesia because of language and cultural differences. There followed a long period of transition, including the violent deaths of two presidents, and in 1994 residents voted to freely associate with the United States but retain independence under the Compact of Free Association. Since that time, Palau has been recognized as a sovereign nation and a full-fledged member of the United Nations, and it conducts its own foreign relations. However, the US is responsible for its defense until 2044.
 
In 1981 Palau voted to have the world’s first nuclear-free constitution. However this delayed its independence because the United States would not agree to the anti-nuclear clause, so the UN would not remove US trusteeship. The Palauans were granted their sovereignty in 1994 after the clause was repealed. A 2007 controversy emerged in Palau when Chinese officials offered economic opportunities to Palau if they transferred their diplomatic relations from Taiwan to China. Currently Taiwan gives Palau technical aid and economic stimulus grants, while owning a large percentage of the island’s hotel and tourist interests.
 
Palau’s economy is based primarily on tourism, subsistence farming, and fishing, with the government being a major employer because of the assistance it receives from the US. With a population of roughly 21,000, Palau enjoys a per-capita income almost twice the amount of the Philippines.
 
The Palmyra and Wake Atolls - In 2001, the Office of Insular Affairs allowed the US Fish and Wildlife Service to administer the majority of the Palmyra Atoll, with the exception of nine areas, including certain tidal and submerged lands. As an incorporated yet unorganized territory of the US, the Palmyra Atoll is subject to all provisions under the Constitution, yet Congress has passed no legislation on how to govern it except that the President may use his discretion. With no indigenous population on the island, Palmyra is privately owned by the Nature Conservatory, which bought most of the atoll from Honolulu’s Fullard-Leo family in 2000, and manages it as a nature reserve. Most research is done on coral reef conservation, and in 2005 a worldwide team of scientists joined the Nature Conservatory in launching a new research station to study global warming, disappearing coral reefs, invasive species, and other environmental threats.
 
The Wake Atoll is an unorganized, unincorporated territory of the US, administered by the OIA. Access to the islands is restricted, with all activities managed by the US Air Force and Army. The site of many World War II military encounters between the Japanese and the United States, the Wake Atoll was used for strategic defense and operations during the Cold War. Since 1974 Wake Island (the largest in the atoll) has served as grounds for launching military rockets involved in testing anti-missile systems and atmospheric re-entry trials. The Wake Atoll is also claimed by the Marshall Islands (one of the United States’ freely associated states) leaving some ambiguity regarding the US military’s role on the island and as a defender of the Marshall Islands.
 
US Virgin Islands - Part of the archipelago of the Virgin Islands, of which the other half is administered by the United Kingdom, the US Virgin Islands are located in the Caribbean Sea. Consisting of three main islands, Saint Croix, Saint John, and Saint Thomas, as well as several minor islands, the Virgin Islands archipelago were named for Saint Ursula and her virgin followers by Christopher Columbus in 1493. Over the next three hundred years, the islands were under various European powers, including Spain, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and finally Denmark-Norway. The Danish West Indian Company began colonization of St. Thomas in 1671 and St. John in 1684, becoming royal Danish colonies in 1754. Denmark purchased St. Croix from France in 1733. During World War I the United States was worried that Germany would seize the islands and so sought to buy them from Denmark. After much debate, the islands were sold to the US in 1917 for $25 million. In 1944 Water Island was sold to the US for $10,000. US citizenship was granted to the inhabitants in 1927. In 1931 the Virgin Islands of the United States were placed under the administration of the Department of the Interior and in 1936 the US passed an Organic Act establishing a local government for the islands. In 1970 legislation was passed to allow the Virgin Islands to democratically elect their own government.
 
Tourism is the primary means of income for the Virgin Islands, hosting more than 2 million tourists a year. The islands also have a manufacturing sector, consisting of rum, oil refining, watch assembly, and pharmaceuticals. Hovensa, one of the world’s largest petroleum refineries, is located on St. Croix and supplies most of the oil, heating, and gasoline to the US Gulf Coast and the eastern seaboard. The current population is roughly 109,000 residents.
more
What it Does:
 
The Office of Insular Affairs currently has administrative responsibility for coordinating federal policy in the territories of American Samoa, Guam, the US Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, as well as the oversight of federal programs and funds in the freely associated states of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau. Additionally OIA exercises some control in two of the nine smaller insular areas of Palmyra and the Wake Atolls. 
 
The OIA works on behalf of the Secretary of the Interior, whose executive orders place the territories under the supervision of the Office of Insular Affairs. Executive orders gave control to the OIA of the US Virgin Islands in1931, Guam in 1950, American Samoa in 1951, and the Northern Mariana Islands in 1986. The US Virgin Islands control was revised in 1954.
 
In order to facilitate these responsibilities, the OIA has multiple initiatives. The Island Business Opportunities initiative involves each of the territories and their economic development. Each year a conference is held and works to network island governments with each other, as well as business and government leaders in the United States and the Pacific-Asian region to build up their resources. Topics at these conferences include infrastructure development, tourism opportunities, renewable energy, and specialty agriculture. The Department of the Interior aims to facilitate communication among organizations, projects, companies and the islands.
 
The Brown Treesnake Program is a control and research program on the island of Guam, where brown treesnakes have become invasive. OIA works with other agencies, including the Department of Defense and the Department of Agriculture, in funding the effort to control the population and reduce damages caused by the snakes. The Coral Reef Initiative is an effort by the Department of the Interior and OIA to protect the coal reefs around the US insular islands. In partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the OIA provides technical assistance and direct grants to these areas for coral reef ecosystem conservation.
 
The OIA’s Interagency Group on Insular Areas (IGIA) was re-established in 2003 by President Bush to coordinate federal policies toward these territories. The agency consists of the heads of the governmental departments in the executive branch, as well as those heads of agencies the Department of the Interior wants. They will meet with the territorial governors to identify issues and make recommendations with each other.
 
Additionally, the OIA provides information on the activities and events sponsored by the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. This initiative works to increase economic opportunities for and improve the lives of those Asian American and Pacific Islander individuals living in the United States and its territorial islands.
 
OIA Initiatives
-        Browntree Snake Program
-        Coral Reef Initiative
 
Island Information
-        All OIA Jurisdictions
-        Islanders in the Military

-        Grants to the Outer Pacific

more
Controversies:
Who Owns What?
During the 20th century, the United States disputed with other countries the status of their claims on certain islands and atolls. While all of these arguments have been settled, more information on past conflicts can be found here.

China Makes Bid for Recognition by Palau

(by David Miho, Pacific Magazine)

more

Comments

Leave a comment

captcha

Founded: 1902
Annual Budget: $402 million
Employees: 25
Official Website: http://www.doi.gov/oia/
Office of Insular Affairs
Kia’aina, Esther
Assistant Secretary

On September 11, 2013, President Barack Obama nominated Esther P. Kia’aina to be assistant secretary for Insular Affairs in the Department of the Interior. On behalf of the Interior Secretary, the assistant secretary for Insular Affairs coordinates federal policy for the territories of American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The assistant secretary administers and oversees 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.

 

Kia’aina’s nomination was approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on December 19, 2013. She is awaiting approval from the full Senate before assuming her duties.

 

One of the islands Kia’aina will administer is her birthplace, Guam. She was born there July 16, 1963. Her parents were of Hawaiian ancestry, but her father was a civilian employee of the U.S. Navy on Guam. Kia’aina attended elementary school and junior high on Guam. For high school, she attended the prestigious Kamehameha schools in Hawaii.

 

Kia’aina went further afield for her post-secondary education, graduating from the University of Southern California with a B.A. in international relations and political science in 1985, receiving an M.A. from Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies in 1988 and a J.D. from The George Washington University in 1998.

 

Starting in 1990, Kia’aina was a legislative assistant for Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii). She served in that role until 1999, when she went to work for Delegate Robert Underwood (D-Guam) as his chief of staff. Subsequently, she was chief of staff for Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii) from 2004 to 2006.

 

After that, she worked for Kamehameha Schools as land asset manager, and subsequently for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

 

In 2012, Kia’aina ran for the Democratic nomination for Hawaii’s 2nd district. That seat was vacated by Mazie Hirono, who ran for and won a U.S. Senate seat. Kia’aina lost her race, placing third. She was then appointed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie to be deputy director of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, a position she held until her Interior Department nomination.

-Steve Straehley

 

To Learn More:

Statement of Esther P. Kiaaina Nominee for the Position of Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas (pdf)

Confirmation Hearing (U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources)

more
Babauta, Tony
Previous Assistant Secretary

Anthony Marion (Tony) Babauta was confirmed as the Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Affairs on September 10, 2009.  He oversees federal administration of the United States possessions of Guam, the Commonwealth of Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI), the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa. Babauta is the first native islander to hold this position, which the Obama administration raised to Assistant Secretary status for the first time since 1994. 

 
Babauta, born in 1969 in Agat, Guam, is the son of Antonio and Mary Babauta. Although his father’s military career caused him to grow up in various locales, his family came back to Guam when he was high school age, and he graduated from Father Dueñas Memorial School, an all-boys Catholic High School in Mangilao, Guam, in 1987. He left Guam for Spokane, Washington, earning his B.A. in Communications from Gonzaga University in 1991. 
 
Returning home to Guam after graduation, Babauta commenced his career in public service in the Guam Legislature, initially with Territorial Senator Elizabeth Arriola and then with Senator Madeleine Bordallo, who later, since 2003, has been the Guamanian Delegate to Congress. In 1998, Babauta moved to Washington, DC, to become a legislative assistant to Guam Delegate Robert Underwood, although he was hired the next year to serve as a professional staff member for the House Committee on Natural Resources, a position he held through 2006. As a result of Democratic victories in the November 2006 Congressional elections, Babauta in 2007 became Majority Staff Director of the Committee’s Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, which exercises oversight regarding the same island possessions for which Babauta now has administrative responsibility. He held that position through May 2009. 
 
Babauta married Barbara J. Bradney in October 2001. The couple has a daughter, Gabriella. A Democrat, Babauta has donated $600 to Democratic candidates since 2001, including $200 to Guam Delegate Robert Underwood (his former employer) in 2001, and $400 to Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo in 2005. 
 
Anthony Babauta (WhoRunsGov, Washington Post)
more