WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne today announced that Deputy Assistant Secretary David B. Cohen will be leaving the Department after an unprecedented five and a half year term at the helm of the Office of Insular Affairs.
“David has been a passionate advocate for the U.S.-affiliated islands,” Secretary Kempthorne said. “His passion has rubbed off on me, and I have become personally committed to island issues. I wish I could have convinced David to stay until the end of the term.”
“I have many to thank for the great experience that I’ve had here at Interior,” Cohen said. “I am especially grateful to Secretary Kempthorne, former Secretary Norton, Deputy Secretary Lynn Scarlett, OIA Director Nikolao Pula and our phenomenal team at OIA, my colleagues in the Administration, my colleagues on Capitol Hill and, most particularly, my colleagues throughout the islands. I’ve had the opportunity to have a significant impact to help people and places that I care very much about. You can’t ask for more than that.”
Having served as Interior’s lead official for insular affairs for a longer continuous period than anyone else, Cohen will return to California to practice law. He will leave the Department by the end of January, 2008.
“After all the preaching I’ve done about the importance of the private sector, I thought that it was time to practice what I preach by returning to it myself,” said Cohen, who has been responsible for administering the Federal Government’s relationship with its territories and for administering financial assistance to U.S. territories and Freely Associated States.
Among his many accomplishments, Cohen is credited with significantly raising the visibility of island issues in Washington, helping to reactivate the White House Interagency Group on Insular Areas, launching comprehensive new programs to promote private sector economic development and accountability, leading the implementation of the amended Compacts of Free Association, and being a strong advocate for both locals and guest workers in the Northern Mariana Islands.
During his tenure, Cohen focused on helping the islands improve their business climates and reach out to potential investors to promote private sector economic development. Under his leadership, the Office of Insular Affairs developed an Island Fellows Program, which assigned candidates for Masters of Business Administration degrees from prestigious U.S. universities to address economic development issues in the islands; organized four successful Conferences on Business Opportunities in the Islands, and led Business Opportunities Missions which have brought delegations of potential investors to the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Palau, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Cohen emphasized and promoted improved accountability of federal funds, providing technical assistance to help insular area governments improve their financial management. He and his team at OIA were the principal architects of the comprehensive new accountability requirements adopted with recent amendments to the Compacts of Free Association with the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia
Cohen also took a particular interest in helping Chamorros, Carolinians, foreign guest workers and others who are suffering because of the structural problems with the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’ economy. He and his staff drafted and won Bush Administration support for legislation calling for “flexible federalization” of the Northern Marianas immigration system to accommodate the islands’ special needs to attract workers, tourists, investors and other visitors.
“It has been a very eventful five and a half years,” said Cohen. “I’m proud of the degree to which we’ve been able to shape the agenda. We’ve tried to be creative in our efforts to help the islands, and have tried a lot of new ideas that had never been tried before. All of our new initiatives have placed great demands on OIA’s staff, and I am tremendously impressed by the way in which they have responded.”
A summary of David Cohen’s accomplishments as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs, including additional quotes, is attached and is also available online at www.doi.gov/oia.