DAVID COHEN IS FIRST SAMOAN APPOINTED TO HEAD U.S. OFFICE OF INSULAR AFFAIRS

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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (Samoa News, Apr. 23, 2002)--The first American of Samoan descent was appointed yesterday by Gale Norton, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI), to head DOI’s Office of Insular Affairs (OIA).

A corporate attorney in Los Angeles and former chairman of last year’s federal minimum wage committee for American Samoa, David B. Cohen hopes to take over the new post early this summer.

American Samoa’s Nikolao Pula has been acting director of OIA since the Bush Administration came into office.

"David Cohen’s outstanding business skills and heritage make him especially qualified to serve the special needs of U.S. islands or insular areas," said Secretary Gale Norton of Cohen’s appointment.

Norton said the Bush Administration is also upgrading the director of OIA position to Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior.

Congressman Faleomavaega Eni said he was surprised that Secretary Norton elevated the director’s position to a deputy assistant secretary.

"I am very happy however, with the changes," Faleomavaega told the Samoa News in a telephone interview from Washington D.C. yesterday afternoon.

"The changes are very good, giving Insular Areas more visibility. It also shows that Secretary Norton has taken Insular Area issues to a higher level in the (Bush) Administration," he said.

The upgrading of the OIA directorship post to deputy assistant secretary is "to demonstrate our strong commitment to resolving the tremendous, long-standing economic and infrastructure challenges facing the insular areas," said Norton.

Cohen is currently a partner in the Corporate and Banking Department of Sidley Austin Brown & Wood, based in Los Angeles. He has been with the firm for five years.

"I’m very excited and look forward to the new challenges in this position," Cohen told the Samoa News in a telephone interview from Los Angeles yesterday.

"I expect to take over the post in June," said Cohen, noting that he is in the process of finalizing things, including his post at the Los Angeles office law firm.

"I want to do my best at the new position. I want to do a good job for the U.S. territories," Cohen said. "I really hope that I can make life better for the insular areas.

"I want to do my best to improve the economic status of the territories. All of the territories suffer a lack of resources, geographic isolation, weather problems -- and it’s very difficult for the territories to be self sufficient under these conditions," he said.

Cohen hopes that his background in business will be useful in dealing with the economic problems faced by the territories.

The 42-year old Cohen is married and holds the chiefly title of Papaliitele from Sapapalii, Savaii. While in the territory last year, Cohen spent time with his American Samoa family, the Alailimas.

Congressman Faleomavaega Eni earlier appointed Cohen to the federal minimum wage committee.

Faleomavaega said he is "very pleased" with Cohen’s appointment, noting that Cohen is a faithful Republican who has worked closely with the Bush Administration.

"David Cohen has the necessary tools to work in this capacity and more than qualifies for it. Even more, is the real sense of comfort that a Samoan has been appointed to this post," said Eni.

"I want to say that for the record, Cohen was selected not as a token Samoan but because he fully qualifies, has all the credentials and the experience necessary to fulfill his responsibility in this important office," Eni declared.

Faleomavaega said he looks forward to working with Cohen and giving him the full support of his office.

He also expressed the hope that leaders of other Insular Areas will be supportive of Cohen’s appointment.

"David Cohen will have to be a fast learner in getting himself familiarized with the situation -- not just in American Samoa but all the Insular areas --and to a great extent in dealing with the Freely Associated States," said Faleomavaega.

Cohen was also appointed to the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders by President Bush in 2001.

He will have to resign from the commission in order to assume his new post at DOI.

OIA is the Executive Branch’s liaison organization with the four U.S. island or insular areas, which include Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the US Virgin Islands and American Samoa.

OIA also works with the three Freely Associated States: the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau.

As deputy assistant secretary, Cohen will advise the DOI secretary on operational and administrative matters involving federal policy in the insular areas.

EDUCATION AND WORK BACKGROUND

Over the past 15 years, at the Sidley Austin Brown law firm and other firms, Cohen has represented lenders and developers in the area of project finance.

His work has involved numerous infrastructure projects and international and domestic power projects.

He has also represented credit enhancement and liquidity support providers for municipal bond financing. In addition, Cohen served the local Samoan, Filipino, Indian and other communities in California as an immigration attorney from 1992 to 1995.

He was co-founder and sponsor of the Samoan Citizenship Drive in California from 1992-1993 and did pro bono preparation and filing of naturalization applications for Samoan immigrants.

He is a Joint J.D.-MBA graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and the Wharton School and holds an M.A.-B.A. in Regional Science, University of Pennsylvania College of Arts and Sciences. He also holds a Bachelor of Applied Science degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Science, with concentration in Transportation Engineering.

In his community in California, Cohen has served in the Rotary Club for nine years, including as chapter community service director and youth service director.

He initiated an adopt-a-school program with an elementary school in Carson, Calif.; served as volunteer coordinator for the past eight years for the South Bay Classic, which raises well over $100,000 each year for substance abuse prevention programs for schools there; and actively participated in a number of projects in the Samoan community.

The later included assisting community, educational and church groups, among them the Pacific Islander Festival Association, the Samoan Federation of America, Ierusalema Fou Church, the Association of Pacific Island Educators and the Sisters Alumni of the South Pacific.

Cohen also lectured at California State University-Long Beach for five years.

Items from the SAMOA NEWS, American Samoa's daily newspaper, may not be republished without permission. To contact the publisher, send e-mail to

For additional reports from the Samoa News, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Samoa News.

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