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Following Senate vote, there’s a new head of DHSS

A former senior management team member of StarKist Samoa Inc., Taeaoafua Dr. Meki Solomona was yesterday confirmed in a 12-2 vote by the Senate as director of the Department of Human and Social Service Department (DHSS). He was confirmed Monday in a unanimous vote by the House and is now the new DHSS director for the next four years. A veteran educator, Taeaoafua holds a doctoral degree in education administration and a master’s degree in secondary education from Brigham Young University. After leaving government service, Taeaoafua joined StarKist where he worked for the last 20-years in management posts. Durning his 20-minute confirmation hearing yesterday before the Senate Human Resources/Human & Social Service Committee, the nominee during his opening remarks acknowledged that he has been in the private sector for the last 20 years and is thankful to the governor for selecting him, “a humble servant”, to serve in government and the people of American Samoa. Sen. Mauga T. Asuega noted that the news media has reported - based on a House confirmation hearing this week - that some lawmakers had questioned why the nominee left a high ranking position, which is a big paying job, at the cannery to work for the government. Mauga says he is pleased that Taeaoafua has decided to take up the call by the governor to head this important ASG department and inquired if DHSS is considered “high risk” by federal grantors. Taeaoafua, who has been with DHSS for two and half weeks, says a full review of seven programs of the department is ongoing and he does not believe at this point there are issues pertaining to “high risk” but if they do exist, they may be part of other ASG departments, who also needed to comply as well. During last September’s FY 2013 budget hearing, then DHSS director Leilua Stevenson was asked about the DHSS “high risk” status and Stevenson explained that the food stamp programs were on high risk and this is because they fall under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who designated the local Education Department as a high risk division, under the school lunch program.The WIC program has fulfilled all the requirements as outlined by the federal government while the food stamp program’s only remaining item is to ensure that DHSS issues the RFP for the replacement of the [automata] system, which was done and the deadline was last Nov. 14, she said. All of the senators who attended the hearing, praised Taeaoafua as among the well educated sons of American Samoa who returned home to served the government as well as work in the private sector. Sen. Su’a Matauti’a says the nominee left his high paying job at the cannery but has now made government service a priority by accepting the governor’s request to head DHSS. In his closing remarks, Taeaotui told senators that all seven programs are headed by women, who are very experienced and knowledgeable in their task and he will depend on their input. He also thanked the senators for their words of encouragement and support, and promised to provide for the Senate a complete analysis of the seven DHSS programs.