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NEWS RELEASE February 26, 1999


Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt and President Clinton’s Assistant for intergovernmental relations met with the governors and elected representatives of four territories of the U.S. in Washington yesterday to discuss the committee President Clinton said he would create to develop and coordinate policy concerning the islands.

The meeting was convened in Vice President Gore’s Office by Mickey Ibarra, Assistant to the President and White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs. The group will include senior level White House and agency officials. President Clinton announced the plan while on Guam November 23, 1998.

The President said at the time:

"I will work to ensure that your voices are heard Washington, that you are treated fairly and sensitively by the federal government, and that you are consulted before policies are made that affect your lives.

"I will established a network of senior White House and Cabinet officials to develop and coordinate policy concerning the territories."

Among those attending yesterday’s meeting were Governors Tauese Sunia (D) of America Samoa, Carl T.C. Gutierrez (D) of Guam, Pedro P. Tenorio (I) of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Charles W. Turnbull (D) of the U.S. Virgin Islands: Delegates to Congress Eni F. H. Faleomavaega (D-AS), Robert A. Underwood (D-GU) and Donna Christian-Christensen (D-VI) and the Marianas’ Resident Representative, Juan N. Babauta (I).

Federal officials present included Interior Assistant Secretary John Berry, Office of Insular Affairs Director Allen P. Stayman, and OIA Deputy Director, Danny Aranza; White House Deputy Director of Congressional Affairs Janet Murguia, Special Assistant to the President for Cabinet Affairs Ann McGuire, and Co-Chair of the President’s Interagency Group on Puerto Rico Jeffrey Farrow.

As he opened the meeting, Ibarra said "the President takes his responsibility to the residents of the territories as seriously as he does to the residents of the States.

"He recognizes that the territorial Jurisdictions are -- and sometimes should be -- treated different than the States in policies."

"He understands that citizens (of the islands) lack the representation that the citizens of the States have in formal aspects of the Federal process . . . And since (they) lack votes, he recognizes the Administration has a special responsibility to fulfill in considering (their) situations and proposals as policies are made and implemented."

The Governors and Delegates told the assembled officials that the development of a new, high-level coordinating mechanism was not only a good idea, it was "long overdue." They said that it was often hard to get the various federal agencies to focus on specific issues that, while central to island concerns, sometimes appeared to be on the periphery of agency interests.

Secretary Babbitt made three points:

"First, we at Interior need a formal mechanism to increase the responsiveness of federal agencies to island problems, and so the creation of the President’s Intragency Group on Insular Areas would be a helpful mechanism.

"Second, the creation of such a mechanism would make it possible for the Secretary and his staff to be more effective advocates for the islands."

"Third, I am pleased that the individual island governments are reorganizing to speak with one voice in Washington, to target opportunities, an to work together to make full use of the proposed coordinating group."

He said that much progress had been made in recent days to strengthen such multi-island entities as the Pacific Basin Development Council (PBDC) and the Off-Shore Governors’ Forum. The PBDC is a coalition of the three Pacific territorial governors while the Off-Shore Governor’s Forum includes those three and the Virgin Islands.

"The idea of a responsive Interagency Group had a lot of fathers," Babbitt said, noting that Governor Gutierrez, and Delegate Faleomavaega and Underwood had been particularly active in this regard.

The Interagency Group on Insular Areas is expected to be formally established by President Clinton soon.

For additional information: David North Office of Insular Affairs U.S. Department of the Interior 202-208-3003

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