Governors, Delegates Address Interagency Group for Territories
|Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, who serves as the Chairman of the Interagency Group on Insular Areas, addresses the IGIA principals at the first plenary session held on September 10, 2003. Seated to her right is Deputy Assistant Secretary David Cohen. The meeting was attended by representatives of all of the federal cabinet departments and several other agencies. The Governors of Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands addressed the IGIA, as did the Members of Congress from Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.|
(Washington, D.C., September 10, 2003) - Each of the Governors and Members of Congress from Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa addressed a meeting today of the federal interagency group that President George W. Bush created in May to coordinate federal policy towards the U.S. territories. Guam’s Governor Felix Camacho praised President Bush for the establishment of the Interagency Group on Insular Areas.
When President Bush signed the Executive Order establishing this very powerful and resourceful group, the President recognized his fellow Americans of the Insular Areas; he showed the world that from inner city to outer island there are no forgotten Americans under the Bush Administration. "Today we bring his vision of an America that remembers one step further."
The Interagency Group on Insular Areas held its first plenary session today in Washington, D.C., and the elected leaders from the islands used the opportunity to raise issues relating to a number of federal policies. The meeting was held at the offices of the U.S. Department of the Interior, and Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton was in attendance for part of the proceedings.
High-ranking policy officials from all major Federal departments attended the meeting, including the Department of the Interior, the Department of Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department, the Department of Defense, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Agriculture and the Treasury Department. The meeting was opened by Assistant Secretary of the Interior P. Lynn Scarlett and by Ruben Barrales, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.
The Governors addressed a wide variety of topics, but each requested relief from the Federal funding caps and local cost-sharing requirements that are applied in the territories to the Medicaid medical program for low-income residents.
Governor Togiola Tulafono of American Samoa told the IGIA of the hardships imposed upon his territory by air cabotage rules, which restrict the ability of foreign airlines to serve the U.S. and its territories. Governor Togiola said that because his isolated territory is so dependant on air travel to connect it to the rest of the world, limited exemptions to the cabotage rules should be granted in order to provide more air transport options for American Samoa. Governor Togiola also urged the IGIA to support an extension of the tax benefits provided by Section 936 of the Internal Revenue Code, which he said were essential to keep American Samoa’s only major private sector industry, tuna canning, in the territory.
Governor Felix Camacho of Guam concentrated mostly on issues relating to Guam’s dealings with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, now part of the Department of Homeland Security, in the recovery effort for Supertyphoons Pongsona and Chata’an. Among other things, Governor Camacho requested a waiver of certain insurance requirements in order to enable over $16 million in Federal assistance to be released to the Government of Guam.
Governor Charles Turnbull of the U.S. Virgin Islands offered a proposal to replace Section 936 of the Internal Revenue Code with a provision that would be designed to promote investment in the territories. He also noted that, since the U.S. Virgin Islands tax code mirrors the Federal Internal Revenue Code, the territory often has difficulty shouldering the costs of Federal tax benefits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor. Governor Turnbull offered a proposal whereby the Federal Government would share the cost of the Earned Income Tax Credit with the territory.
Governor Juan Babauta of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands told the IGIA that the CNMI should have a non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. All of the other territories and the District of Columbia have such representation. Governor Babauta also appealed for Federal assistance to ensure that Saipan can have a 24-hour supply of potable water, and requested assistance in getting Transportation Security Agency screeners to the airports in Tinian and Saipan.
Following the Governors’addresses, the IGIA heard presentations from Congresswoman Donna Christensen of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo of Guam and Resident Representative Pedro A. Tenorio of the CNMI.
“It’s a testament to the importance of this meeting that all four Governors, all three members of Congress, the Resident Representative and several territorial legislators attended,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior David B. Cohen, who chaired the meeting. Also in attendance were U.S. Virgin Islands Lieutenant Governor Vargrave Richards, U.S. Virgin Islands Senate Vice President Lorraine Berry, Manuel Tenorio, Vice Speaker of the CNMI of the House of Representatives, CNMI Congressman William Torres and Guam Senator Randall Cunliffe.The IGIA consists of the heads of each department in the executive branch and the heads of those other agencies that the Secretary of the Interior designates, although IGIA duties may be delegated to other high-ranking officials. The group is responsible for identifying issues that affect the insular areas and will make recommendations to the President and other appropriate officials regarding those issues.