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Name: Kia’aina, Esther
Current Position: Previous 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)

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