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Under fire: Babauta has resigned

Have we lost a hero or a flawed man?
patty@samoanews.com
Anthony M. Babauta [photo: whitehouse.gov]

The first Pacific Islander to hold the position of Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs has resigned under the shadow of an ongoing investigation by the Office of Inspector General.

Guam native, Anthony M. Babauta had been on administrative leave since November pending an investigation that includes a review of travel in the Office of Insular Affairs as well as the review of an unspecified grant or grants awarded by his office.

In separate Jan. 24 letters to President Barack Obama and Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar, Babauta stated his resignation was effective this past Friday, Feb. 1.

While the letter to the president was only two short paragraphs essentially thanking him for the opportunity to serve and hoping that his service had “helped to provide a better future for all who call the islands home,” the letter to Salazar was lengthier.

In it, Babauta enumerated the accomplishments made at Insular Affairs under his watch, beginning with a new level of engagement between Interior and the island constituencies and Interior’s heightened role in the Pacific as mandated by Pres. Obama.

He called his tenure a rewarding experience. In writing to Salazar, Babauta said, “With your strong leadership, my office has been able to continue our efforts in the islands to improve infrastructure, build professional capacity, and respond quickly to any emergencies. Your support has allowed us to make investments in education, public safety and the workforce. We have set a new level of expected engagement between the Department and the islands.”

The letter to Secretary Salazar did not provide a specific reason why he was resigning.

ECONOMIC ISSUES & ENVIRONMENT

Babauta has strong opinions on the issues of economic development and the environment when it comes to the islands.

The Washington Post points out that at his first speaking engagement after confirmation as assistant secretary, Babauta highlighted to citizens of Guam the importance of economic development in the territories. “Babauta believes tourism and the military will provide not only jobs, but also funding for government projects. He also maintains that corporate social responsibility is a must.”

"We need businesses that are not only going to invest here on Guam but that are concurrently encouraging community growth and development," Babauta said in the speech.

The Post says Babauta's island heritage has made him a strong advocate of environmental issues. "Respect for Mother Earth is so endemic to our society and our traditional way of life, I believe strongly that our Federal policies must reflect a very similar conscience," said Babauta.

The Post says of particular interest to Babauta is renewable energy. In a partnership with the Energy Department and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Babauta worked on the Energy Development in Island Nations project.

Ultimately, he looked for the project's "plan for energy efficiency and alternative energy development" to be transferable to other island territories.

Within his first few months in office, Babauta was active in funding proposals and awarding grants to promote self-sustaining energy facilities and address waste needs.

As assistant secretary, Babauta worked closely with representatives of the insular territories including Cong. Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin, Donna Christensen of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Pedro Pierluisi of Puerto Rico and Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan of the Northern Mariana Islands.

REACTIONS

In a side bar to its resignation story, The Washington Post told readers “Why he Matters.” The Post pointed out “Babauta has over a decade of government experience and a deep understanding of insular issues. As assistant secretary, he is in a unique position to influence federal policy on funding to territories, economic and tourism development, and promote educational opportunities for younger generations of islanders.

“On behalf of the Interior secretary, Babauta is often his voice at meetings regarding Interior issues. For example, Babauta conducted a meeting in February 2010 for the Interagency Group on Insular Areas. This group provides an opportunity for territory and mainland government officials to discuss issues such as renewable energy, veterans' benefits and immigration law.”

The Post wrote that the reaction to his appointment to the assistant secretary position was overwhelmingly positive.

Along with University of Guam president Dr. Robert Underwood, Guam Governor Eddie Calvo was one of the few people interviewed by OIG investigators recently when they visited Guam as part of the probe into Babauta.

KUAM News Guam quotes Calvo saying despite the investigation, Babauta was good for Guam. "I must say for Tony Babauta and his time as assistant secretary he did a lot of good work for the people of Guam so I want to thank him for all the work he has done and again we look forward moving forward that for Tony good things will happen for him," he said. "I'll let the federal authorities move into whatever happens but as far as I'm concerned from the work that he's done for Guam and the people of the territories I want to congratulate him he did a job well done."

Guam Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo reacted to his resignation, saying Guam and the territories have been well served by Tony's leadership. As assistant secretary, Tony always pushed for the best interests of our people and worked to improve the unique disparities of the insular areas. Although his resignation marks the loss of an important ally for our Pacific island and Caribbean communities, I am confident he will be successful in his future endeavors."

DOI AND ASG

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga’s special assistant Iulogologo Joseph Pereira responded to a Samoa News request for comments on Babauta’s resignation thanking us for informing the Governor’s Office. “The Governor has been communicating with Deputy Assistant Secretary Eileen Sobeck on issues pertaining to the Territory. I have not seen any official communication with regard to Babauta's resignation,” Iulogologo said in an email received yesterday.

Iulogologo told Samoa News that the governor has expanded the scope of work of the auditor engaged by ASG to conduct it’s annual audits after Sobeck indicated the Office of Insular Affairs would not be able help with the Governor's request for a comprehensive audit and suggested he contact the Inspector Generals Office.

The Governor is awaiting the preliminary audit report, which is due the latter part of February.

Iulogologo said Gov. Lolo will be traveling to Washington D.C. where he will be discussing the audit with DOI as well as other issues he has submitted.

Iulogologo also told Samoa News that the governor has not renewed the contract of ASG’s Washington lobbyists, Lipson and Irwing, and instead he has reached out to Cong. Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin to help advocate for territorial issues.

The Governor will also be meeting with Faleomavaega in Washington to address the same issues he has sent to Dept. of Interior for discussion.

DOI AND THE TERRITORIES

Eileen Sobeck, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas, is filling Babauta’s job.

In his letter to Sec. Salazar, Babuta said, “I applaud you for agreeing with congressional leaders in re-establishing the position of Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas after more than a decade during which a lower level official headed the Office of Insular Affairs. That act alone was in important contribution to Federal insular policy and relations. This renewed tradition of Presidential political appointment should continue. It tells the often forgotten islands that they will get the respect and dignity of advocacy at the highest of political levels that they deserve and that the progress we have made will move forward.”



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