IGIA plenary focuses on climate change, manpower concerns


The Obama administration pledged more support to insular areas through increase funding and more focus on climate change and manpower concerns.

Speaking before attendees at the second Interagency Group on Insular Areas’ plenary session in Washington, D.C., Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said the Obama administration “will continue to listen” to the concerns of the insular areas. Jewell co-hosted the meeting with White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Jerry Abramson.

In her opening speech, Jewell said despite cost-cutting concerns in the mainland, the administration will try to increase funding for the insular areas.

She mentioned that the government does recognize that it needs to increase the $30 million a year cap in funding for Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

The official also mentioned the issue of climate change, and that the federal government has allocated some $140 million for ecosystem resilience.

On a bigger scale, she said the current administration is also looking at allocating a portion of the planned $500 billion into the transportation budget plan, roads and bridges, not only with the 50 states, but also with territories.

“From forums like the IGIA, to federal assistance and economic development programs, Interior is dedicated to working with our fellow Americans living in American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands,” said Jewell. “President Obama and his administration are committed to helping island leaders build strong, dynamic and resilient communities, especially as we address the impacts of climate change, which the islands are already experiencing.”

Regular reviews and meetings

Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas Esther Kia’aina added that the “IGIA is the largest annual gathering of federal and island officials” in Washington.”

“Moving forward, the IGIA will not only be an annual event, but a continuing dialogue among the White House, the Department of the Interior, and other relevant federal agencies on the issues identified prior to and during today’s meeting,” the official said.

Kia’aina said there will be regular reviews of the progress and developments related to the IGIA.

Kia’aina also announced that a Climate Change Coordinator will be hired in the Office of Insular Affairs by April. She also announced that OIA will be coordinating with Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo to host a two-day stakeholder meeting in Guam, in June, between territorial leaders and federal agencies on climate change resilience and adaptation.

Aside from Guam and the CNMI, representatives from other insular areas and territories including American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands attended the plenary session.

CNMI concerns

For the CNMI, Lt. Ralph DLG. Torres gave a short presentation on workforce development as a critical component given the CNMI’s reliance on tourism.

Torres, who attended the plenary on behalf of Gov. Ely S. Inos, particularly expressed concern about the need for increased immigration given that the current workforce in his territory will not be sufficient to replace foreign employees that must leave the CNMI by the end of 2019, under current law.

As an answer, territorial leaders have been invited to participate in working with federal officials regarding the implementation of the Workforce Innovation Opportunities Act, Kia’aina said.

The Assistant Secretary stated that, in concert with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, workforce development in the health profession will be prioritized for the territories.

More than 100 policy-level representatives attended the second IGIA.

Delegate Gregorio Kilili C Sablan (Ind-MP), meanwhile, was not able to attend the IGIA. The CNMI’s four-term delegate to Congress will undergo back surgery on March 2.

The archived webcast of the IGIA Plenary Session is available at http://new.livestream.com/usinterior/events/3824237.

Joel D. Pinaroc | Reporter
Joel Pinaroc worked for a number of newspapers in the Philippines before joining the editorial team of Saipan Tribune. His published articles include stories on information technology, travel and lifestyle, and motoring, among others. Contact him at joel_pinaroc@saipantribune.com.

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