V.I. Gov. Kenneth Mapp, Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo and American Samoa Gov. Lolo Moliga met with White House and Department of Interior officials Friday to discuss health and financial concerns for the territories during the Senior Plenary Session of the Interagency Group on Insular Areas in Washington, D.C.
Deputy Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs Justin Clark, Senior White House Advisor Douglas Domenech and acting Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Areas Nikolao Pula were in the meeting. Clark spoke about his growing interest in the U.S. territories and his serving as the principal point of contact for the governors in the Trump administration, according to a statement from the Interior Department.
Domenech said that, having served as acting deputy assistant secretary of the Interior for insular areas in 2008, he was not a stranger to the territories and referred to the many briefings that the Office of Insular Affairs has already provided him on the challenges the territories are encountering.
Pula asked all attendees to remember a major political leader of the Pacific who often participated at IGIA plenary sessions, Congressman Eni Hunkin Faleomavaega of American Samoa, who died Feb. 22. Eni served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 26 years, and Pula said American Samoa, the Pacific in general, and the peoples throughout the U.S. territories have lost a champion.
Mapp addressed the great need for increased federal infrastructure investment in the territories. He said that the population-based formulas that determine the allocation of federal infrastructure investment severely handicap the territories’ abilities to develop sustainable economic development and achieve greater financial self-sufficiency. He also called for greater attention on the open borders of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, and the need for greater investment in securing the territories against potential threats.
Calvo focused his comments on the challenges that well-intentioned but misaligned federal policies and regulations impose on the territories’ ability to foster economic development and fiscal sustainability. He said immigration, environmental and tax policies in the territories should be guided by the unique circumstances of the territories and not by the norms of the continental United States.
Lolo commented on his hope that the new national discussions on health care reform will lead to more relevant and impactful solutions for improving the access and availability of affordable and quality health care in the territories. He emphasized that the overall federal approach to health care continues to treat the territories as if they have the same conditions and capacities of states.
All governors saw great potential for the Interagency Group on Insular Areas to assist in addressing and resolving many of the issues discussed and they were looking forward for additional opportunities to collaborate with federal agencies and working towards solutions, according to the statement.
The Interagency Group on Insular Areas was established to ensure coordination and collaboration among federal agencies in addressing issues of concern to the U.S. territories of Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Mariana Islands.
The secretary of the Interior is responsible for coordinating federal policy with respect to the territories of the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and administering and overseeing U.S. federal assistance provided to the freely associated states of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau under the Compacts of Free Association.