Fed probe into OIA travel and grants moves to Guam
The federal probe into Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs Tony Babauta is heading to Guam. KUAM News in Guam reports that University of Guam (UOG) president and former Guam Delegate to Congress, Dr. Robert Underwood says he will be interviewed this week as part of the ongoing investigation.
Babauta was placed on administrative leave in 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.
Current Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo expressed confidence in the native son of Guam and issued a statement shortly after the investigation was announced saying, "I have confidence in his (Babauta’s) integrity and in the work he has performed as the Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs. He has used his expertise on insular issues to fully engage leaders from across the Pacific and in the Caribbean. Our islands are better positioned because of his leadership. I believe that he has always exercised sound decision making and I hope this will be reflected in the IG results."
Likewise Underwood told KUAM that he believes the findings will clearly exonerate Babauta. "Tony Babauta is one of the most knowledgeable people about federal relations and the federal government and he's been an enormous value to the island over the years," Underwood stated. "And it's a shame we're at this point."
Concerning his interview with the IG’s office, Underwood said, "I was contacted on December 18 or 17 by the IG's Office of the Department of Interior, saying that they had indicated there was an interest to talk to me about some of the grants given by the Department of Interior to the University." He notes that UOG itself is not under any kind of investigation, but believes its part of the overall probe into the allegations against Babauta.
According to KUAM, UOG has received over a million in grants from DOI, connected mostly to sustainability under UOG Green and the Buy Local initiative under the School of Business.
Underwood said officials will be in Guam for a week and considering only two hours was reserved for him on Wednesday; he believes others will be interviewed as well.
Babauta has not replied to media requests for a statement.
Babauta previously worked in the Guam Legislature, initially with Territorial Sen. Elizabeth Arriola and then with Bordallo, then senator and who, since 2003, has been the Guam delegate to Congress.
In 1998, Babauta moved to Washington, D.C. to become a legislative assistant to Underwood, when he was Guam's delegate to Congress.
He was hired the next year to serve as a professional staff member for the House Committee on Natural Resources, a position he held through 2006.
In 2007, Babauta became Majority Staff Director of the Committee's Subcommittee on Insular Affairs.
President Barack Obama nominated Babauta in July 2009 and the U.S. Senate confirmed him in September 2009 as DOI’s assistant secretary for insular affairs.
According to KUAM millions in grants awarded by DOI have gone to Guam agencies for various projects such as to the Department of Administration to upgrade GovGuam's procurement system; millions were awarded to the Guam Fire Department to purchase ambulances, Babauta also awarded grants to the Department of Education as well as Public Works, among others.
Eileen Sobeck is acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas. She previously served as the Interior's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.
Babauta was invited to be a special guest at the Gov. Lolo M. Moliga and Lt. Gov. Lemanu P. Maugainauguration but Samoa News understands he was unable to attend due to being on administrative leave.
When the Lolo Administration request for a DOI audit of the local government in November was refused, it was speculated that the Babauta investigation was part of the reason.
However, a reply from the acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairssaid that OIA is not authorized to conduct the type of audit the governor requested, only DOI’s Office of the Inspector General is authorized to conduct audits for Interior, but those are normally focused on program or operation issues, rather than financial.
She suggested that the quickest way to get the time sensitive information the governor was seeking was from the audit firm Moss Adams, which is currently reviewing ASG’s financial data for Fiscal Year 2012.