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Former Christensen Staffer On Deck for Office of Insular Affairs

March 8, 2009 — Tony Babauta, once a Congressional staff member reporting to Delegate Donna M. Christensen, is generally expected to become the next head of the Office of Insular Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior.
As with most political appointments, this report runs ahead of any official announcement by the Obama Administration.
Babauta currently serves as the majority staff director of the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs of the House of Representatives Committee on Resources, Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans. In 2007 and 2008 he reported to Christensen in her role as subcommittee chair.
Before the Democrats took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 2006 elections, Babauta had served several years as the subcommittee's minority staff director. He has often come to the territory on congressional business.
Babauta, a former resident of Guam, is reportedly supported for the OIA job by Christensen; Delegate Madeleine Bordallo of Guam, the current subcommittee chair; and Delegate Gregorio Sablan of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), who was elected as an independent but sits with the Democrats. Another key supporter is said to be Congressman Nick Rahall (D-West Virginia), the chair of the full House Committee on Resources.
Christensen, though no longer chair of the Insular Subcommittee, remains a member of it. She relinquished the chairmanship in connection with her appointment to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which she has said is one of the three most important committees in the House, along with Appropriations and Ways and Means. Health policy is one of several items on the committee's agenda.
There is at least one other reported candidate for the OIA position, Cooper Brown, an attorney now practicing in suburban Washington. His resume contains an element unusual for a candidate for a political appointment in a Democratic administration — he was the Republican candidate in 1980 against Senator Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii). The Senator is chair of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and is the second most senior member of the Senate.
When asked about his prospects, Babauta said modestly, "You hear a lot of rumors around town." He would say nothing further on the subject. At this writing, he remains on the staff of the House of Representatives.
If appointed, Babauta would become the principal official in the Obama Administration dealing with the four island territories (American Samoa, CNMI, Guam and the Virgin Islands), as well as the three freely associated states in the central Pacific (Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau). Puerto Rico is not within the ambit of OIA.
Babauta's appointment would also follow a relatively new tradition in Washington: the appointment of a political leader for OIA who actually knew something about the islands before the appointment. Throughout the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations, and into the first years of the Clinton Administration, the position was filled through a process critics called "an equal-opportunity appointment." For years the job had been filled by Hispanics from either the mainland or Puerto Rico, while in the early Clinton years the incumbent was an African-American from the mainland.
These individuals were prominent in their communities, but came to the office with no contacts in the islands and with no prior service to the Interior Department.
"They were a lonely bunch, initially with little sense of the islands and without much power in the administration," said a longtime islands observer.
The pattern changed in the first Clinton term when Al Stayman, formerly the U.S. Senate staffer for island affairs, came into the job. (Full disclosure — this writer worked for him for a couple of years.) Stayman's successors, including the Democrats' Danny Aranza (who grew up in Guam), and the Republicans' David Cohen (with his Samoan connections), were deeply versed in island matters.
It will be interesting to see the title given to the new ranking islands official. Until the early 1990s it had been that of assistant secretary, and thus the appointment needed confirmation by the U.S. Senate. The Secretary of Interior at that time, Bruce Babbitt, found himself facing a cutback in the number of assistant secretary slots assigned to the department, and opted to make the head of OIA a deputy assistant secretary, a position that can be filled without Senate action.
For the time being, OIA is headed by Nik Pula, a Samoan and a longtime career Interior Department staff member. He is expected to stay as a major official in the office after the new political leadership arrives.
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March 8, 2009 -- Tony Babauta, once a Congressional staff member reporting to Delegate Donna M. Christensen, is generally expected to become the next head of the Office of Insular Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior.
As with most political appointments, this report runs ahead of any official announcement by the Obama Administration.
Babauta currently serves as the majority staff director of the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs of the House of Representatives Committee on Resources, Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans. In 2007 and 2008 he reported to Christensen in her role as subcommittee chair.
Before the Democrats took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 2006 elections, Babauta had served several years as the subcommittee's minority staff director. He has often come to the territory on congressional business.
Babauta, a former resident of Guam, is reportedly supported for the OIA job by Christensen; Delegate Madeleine Bordallo of Guam, the current subcommittee chair; and Delegate Gregorio Sablan of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), who was elected as an independent but sits with the Democrats. Another key supporter is said to be Congressman Nick Rahall (D-West Virginia), the chair of the full House Committee on Resources.
Christensen, though no longer chair of the Insular Subcommittee, remains a member of it. She relinquished the chairmanship in connection with her appointment to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which she has said is one of the three most important committees in the House, along with Appropriations and Ways and Means. Health policy is one of several items on the committee's agenda.
There is at least one other reported candidate for the OIA position, Cooper Brown, an attorney now practicing in suburban Washington. His resume contains an element unusual for a candidate for a political appointment in a Democratic administration -- he was the Republican candidate in 1980 against Senator Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii). The Senator is chair of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and is the second most senior member of the Senate.
When asked about his prospects, Babauta said modestly, "You hear a lot of rumors around town." He would say nothing further on the subject. At this writing, he remains on the staff of the House of Representatives.
If appointed, Babauta would become the principal official in the Obama Administration dealing with the four island territories (American Samoa, CNMI, Guam and the Virgin Islands), as well as the three freely associated states in the central Pacific (Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau). Puerto Rico is not within the ambit of OIA.
Babauta's appointment would also follow a relatively new tradition in Washington: the appointment of a political leader for OIA who actually knew something about the islands before the appointment. Throughout the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations, and into the first years of the Clinton Administration, the position was filled through a process critics called "an equal-opportunity appointment." For years the job had been filled by Hispanics from either the mainland or Puerto Rico, while in the early Clinton years the incumbent was an African-American from the mainland.
These individuals were prominent in their communities, but came to the office with no contacts in the islands and with no prior service to the Interior Department.
"They were a lonely bunch, initially with little sense of the islands and without much power in the administration," said a longtime islands observer.
The pattern changed in the first Clinton term when Al Stayman, formerly the U.S. Senate staffer for island affairs, came into the job. (Full disclosure -- this writer worked for him for a couple of years.) Stayman's successors, including the Democrats' Danny Aranza (who grew up in Guam), and the Republicans' David Cohen (with his Samoan connections), were deeply versed in island matters.
It will be interesting to see the title given to the new ranking islands official. Until the early 1990s it had been that of assistant secretary, and thus the appointment needed confirmation by the U.S. Senate. The Secretary of Interior at that time, Bruce Babbitt, found himself facing a cutback in the number of assistant secretary slots assigned to the department, and opted to make the head of OIA a deputy assistant secretary, a position that can be filled without Senate action.
For the time being, OIA is headed by Nik Pula, a Samoan and a longtime career Interior Department staff member. He is expected to stay as a major official in the office after the new political leadership arrives.
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.