WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs is pleased to acknowledge that two new political appointees have joined the leadership team for the Office of Insular Affairs. The Biden-Harris administration has appointed Keone Nakoa of Hawaii as the deputy assistant secretary for Insular and International Affairs and Betsy Hildebrandt of Virginia as the new senior advisor for insular areas to the assistant secretary.
“The territories are an integral part of the fabric of America, and the freely associated states, while independent countries, are uniquely interwoven with the United States in terms of a shared history, ongoing partnership, and a shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Nakoa. “I look forward to working with the OIA team and leadership from the insular areas to fulfill our trust and insular responsibilities through efforts to strengthen economic and health capacities in the territories, fulfill Compact of Free Association obligations, and address climate resilience, conservation, and clean energy deployment.”
“I am honored to join the Office of Insular Affairs, which has an important role to play in facilitating and upholding the federal government’s interrelationship with each of the insular areas,” said Hildebrandt. “The Biden-Harris administration has made clear its priorities to strengthen insular economies through strategic investments in environmental justice activities, clean energy deployment, and infrastructure improvement, while also restoring trust with territorial communities and ensuring sovereignty means something in supporting and working with the freely associated states.”
Nakoa joins Interior from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs where he worked with Congress and federal agencies as the Washington, D.C. bureau chief. Keone previously served as speechwriter for the late senator Daniel Akaka, clerk for the Chief Judge of the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals, and as a lawyer at a private firm in Honolulu. He holds J.D. and MBA degrees from the University of Hawaii at Mānoa and a bachelor’s degree in biological anthropology from Harvard University. Born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, he is part Native Hawaiian and lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife, Stephanie.
Hildebrandt returns to the Interior Department after serving in a variety of roles between 2009 and 2020 as both a political appointee and a career employee in the Office of the Secretary, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey. Her contributions have primarily focused on management and strategic communications. In her more than 30-year career, Betsy has worked on Capitol Hill and the private and non-profit sectors. Hildebrandt and her husband, Kevin Varney, have two children. (PR)