Remarks By Nikolao Pula

Last edited 11/30/2020

Remarks By Nikolao Pula,
Director (Career-Senior Executive Service)
Office of Insular Affairs Department of the Interior

At the DOC-DOI Joint Release of the First Set of GDP Estimates for the Territories
Department of Commerce

Washington, DC. Good Afternoon.  Secretary Salazar had planned to be here t his afternoon but, as you know, the situation in the Gulf Coast has placed extraordinary demands on his time.  I am Nik Pula, Director of the Office of Insular Affairs, Department of the Interior.

I am pleased to join Commerce Under Secretary for Economic Affairs, Dr. Rebecca Blank, and all of you during this truly historic occasion.  Today, we announce the first set of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) estimates done by the Bureau of Economic Analysis for the four territories of American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.   The vital information provided today is the result of a joint initiative, led by the Office of Insular Affairs, in collaboration with the Bureau of Economic Analysis at the Department of Commerce.  This valuable partnership has resulted in information that improves our understanding of our territorial economies and empowers policy makers to make informed decisions.

Some of the territories the Office of Insular Affairs works with have been affiliated with the United States for more than a century.  Yet, they have not been included in the nation's system of economic statistics, until now.   With the support and capable stewardship of Dr. Rebecca Blank, an imminent scholar and economic statistics administrator, we have produced the first set of estimates of gross domestic product for the territories.

Our Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas, Mr. Tony Babauta, would have been just as pleased as we all are to have been a part of this gathering; however, he is on official travel in Micronesia.  I am joined by some of my staff, including our economist Wali Osman who works with the Bureau of Economic Analysis on this project.

I am not an economist and will not pretend to be one today, but I know that accurate and timely information on the economies of the territories is critical to so many constituencies.  Whether it is the federal government, the territorial government, local business or businesses from the mainland and abroad, households and individuals, student and scholars and community groups, all need current and accurate information to make informed and insightful decisions.  What we have been able to put together, and I know that this took quite a bit of work and travel and working with the territories, is a significant achievement and I want to congratulate our teams on a job well done.  It gives me great pleasure to see that the Office of Insular Affairs and the Bureau of Economic Analysis have been able to come together, merging our financial resources with your technical expertise, and produce, for the very first time, GDP data for the territories.  I would like to specifically thank Drs. Brian Moyer and Brent Moulton of the BEA and their respective teams for working so diligently with us and the territories.

My hope is that this information will help the Administration and the Congress with decisions that have to do with economic growth and development issues in the territories.  Moreover, this information will help governors and other elected leaders of the territories design economic growth and development policies that are consistent with their resources and the aspirations of their people.

Another important aspect of our joint project which gives me a great deal of satisfaction also is that our two teams have worked closely with the territories, their leaders and their staffs.  The territories may be small and far away from the mainland, but they are not unimportant.  Each plays its own special role in the affairs of the United States.  Our joint effort is a demonstration of our commitment to the territories unhindered by geographic distance and isolation.  Physical realities of the island territories may not change, but we can modify policies of our institutions to overcome the barriers of distance and integrate the territories into our national economic system. 

Going forward, I would hope that we can build on what your team has achieved and engage other federal agencies to work with the territories more closely and include them in their work.  As I testified to this effect before a joint hearing of the House's Subcommittees on Insular Affairs and Information Policy, Census and National Archives on May 21, 2008, currently the territories are included in the decennial census, the economic census and the census of agriculture, but not much else.  The territories are not included in the ongoing federal data and research activities of some key agencies which collect data on population, labor force, income and demographic change.  It may be instructive to look into the possibility of including the territories in more federal research.  Now that you have set an outstanding example, perhaps other federal agencies will build on our model.

            The completion of this joint initiative is timely, as the month of May is designated as Asian American and Pacific Islander month.  In addition to festivities that celebrate the cultures and traditions of Asian American and Pacific Islanders, we are reminded of the need to raise awareness and work to address the unique needs and challenges of our AAPI community.  I am confident this initiative will serve as an important foundation to enhance economic opportunities in these territories. 

The Office of Insular Affairs is committed to the territories, as this project demonstrates.  I am looking forward to our continued cooperation and working with our territories.  Thank you again for a job well done.

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