|From left to right, Director Office Interior Office of Insular Affairs Nikolao Pula, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, Interior Deputy Chief of Staff Douglas Domenech, Director Joint Guam Program Office, Gen. David Bice, Lead Socioeconomic Group USDA Rural Programs Curtis Anderson, and U.S. Virgin Islands Congresswoman Donna Christian-Christensen.|
WASHINGTON, D.C. --Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne today met with governors and congressional representatives of U.S. island territories to discuss a range of issues, from the planned U.S. military expansion on Guam to health care, educational needs and the application of federal immigration, wage and tax laws in the islands. The Secretary capped the day by awarding $5.9 million in grants to Guam Gov. Felix Camacho to help fund the island’s public health, social services and community college.
“The U.S. island territories occupy a critically important part of the world and the patriotism of the citizens there affirms their valued membership in the American family,” Kempthorne told island leaders attending a plenary meeting of the federal Interagency Group on Insular Areas. “The relocation of 8,000 U.S. Marines and their dependents to Guam over the next several years will not only have an enormous economic impact on that island but can also have a positive effect on U.S. affiliated neighbor islands.”
“But this must be accomplished holistically, properly and with sensitivity, so that the people of Guam do not feel set upon and so that they and their neighbor islands can see the benefits of this expansion,” said Kempthorne, who noted that the relocation will require a substantial increase in Guam’s construction and service sector activity and spur tourism in the region.
The grants awarded to Guam included $5 million to purchase medicine, medical supplies and equipment for the Guam Memorial Hospital and $500,000 for similar assistance to Guam’s Department of Public Health and Social Services. The grants are provided to reimburse Guam for the impact of Micronesian migration to the island under the Compacts of Free Association. Another grant of $443,933, from Operations and Maintenance Improvement Program funding, will help the Guam Community College to upgrade its construction trades programs.
Kempthorne chaired the seventh plenary session of the Interagency Group on Insular Areas (IGIA), a White House-led group that works with island governments to mitigate the impact of federal laws, regulations and policies on the U.S. insular territories in the Pacific and Caribbean. The Secretary visited all U.S. island territories and the Freely Associated States in the Pacific last June and intends to visit the U.S. Virgin Islands in April.
Island leaders addressed a wide range of issues during the sessions, including policies on Earned Income Tax Credit, federal Medicaid and supplemental security income, visa waiver programs, postal rates to the U.S. Virgin Islands, boosting community college capacity for training in American Samoa and the other insular areas, geothermal energy potential in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands and partnering with hospital associations in the U.S. mainland.
Participating in the IGIA sessions were Governors Felix Camacho of Guam; Benigno Fitial of the Northern Mariana Islands; and Togiola Tulafono of American Samoa; Congresswoman Donna Christian-Christensen of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo of Guam and Resident Representative for the Northern Mariana Islands Pete A. Tenorio.
Interior Deputy Chief of Staff Doug Domenech and Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs Nikolao Pula represented the Office of the Secretary and the Office of Insular Affairs, respectively. Representatives from 15 federal agencies attended, including the Departments of State, Health and Human Services, Energy, Justice, Defense, and Homeland Security and Offices of the U.S. Trade Representative and Small Business Administration.
In a separate session, Kempthorne joined Gov. Camacho and Congresswoman Bordallo, Assistant Secretary of the Navy B.J. Penn and Major General (Ret.) David Bice, Executive Director of the Joint Guam Program Office, to discuss the progress of planning activities for the realignment, which will bring an estimated 40,000 new residents to Guam. The western Pacific island, which currently has a population of approximately 170,000, hosts several Department of Defense facilities, including Andersen Air Force Base and U.S. Naval Station -Apra Harbor.
The IGIA’s Task Force on the Guam Military Buildup, which is co-chaired by the Department of the Navy’s Joint Guam Program Office and Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs, helps federal agencies and the Government of Guam to identify and address requirements through environmental studies and planning processes.
The Joint Guam Program Office is developing preferred alternatives for locating facilities, housing, training areas, aviation and naval port activities for the relocation. The Task Force works with federal agencies to identify financial resources, loan guarantees, tax incentives and other program assistance for the Guam expansion. It also evaluates budget proposals for relocation projects for fiscal year 2010.
The Joint Guam Program Office facilitates the realignment of Marines from Okinawa to Guam, working within the Department of Defense and closely with the Government of Japan, Government of Guam, U.S. Congress and federal agencies to lead and manage the delivery of required capabilities to the Marines.
Information on the Interagency Group on Insular Affairs is online at www.doi.gov/oia