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Special advisors proposed for US territories, freely associated states

By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Noting the distinct challenges besetting the U.S. territories and freely associated states, U.S. lawmakers today introduced a bipartisan bill seeking to help federal agencies understand the needs of the jurisdictions with complex political status.

H.R. 5001, titled “Special Advisors for Insular Areas Act.” would establish a special advisor for insular areas in each executive department.

“Our relationship with each of the U.S. territories and freely associated states is unique and has needs that differ across the federal agencies,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, the bill’s main author and chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources.

The lawmaker from Arizona said the legislation "will help ensure that each executive department has the expertise it needs to understand those needs and make good on our responsibility to support economic and social development in the insular areas.

H.R. 5001 is co-sponsored by territorial delegates Rep. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan of the CNMI, Rep. Jim Moylan of Guam, Rep. Jenniffer González Colón of Puerto Rico and Rep. Stacey E. Plaskett of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

According to the bill, the special advisor would serve as a liaison and provide guidance to the head of the relevant executive department in dealing with matters related to Guam, the CNMI, American Samoa, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as the freely associated states--Palau, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia.


“The unique circumstances of the Marianas and other insular areas are too easily overlooked when federal agencies set national policies. The Special Advisors for Insular Areas Act addresses that problem,” Sablan said.

He said the creation of advisory positions would “lead to more community input in policy formulation and better coordination and communication as policies and programs are implemented.”

While the U.S. territories deal with complex issues arising from their political status, their delegates to the House of Representatives have no voting power.

As a result, the U.S. territories receive unequal treatment under federal programs, Colon said.

If enacted, she added, the bill “would be a good step to address the territories’ specific challenges and unique needs of our constituents.”

Plaskett, for her part. noted that territorial leaders have long expressed the need “for department focal points to better coordinate on policy and program implementation and communication.”


The bill’s authors noted that the U.S. government’s executive departments each have differing priorities, mandates and operational structures.

The situation often causes confusion and inconsistency in the implementation of certain federal policies and programs for insular areas, they added.

While Palau, the FSM and the Marshall Islands are sovereign countries, their affiliation with the U.S. under the Compacts of Free Association provides them access to certain federal programs.

“This timely legislation will provide an avenue for the special advisors to address major policy matters in a comprehensive fashion and provide better clarity of agency roles and responsibilities and improve policy implementation,” Plaskett said.

“I am proud to co-sponsor this piece of legislation, which ensures our island communities' unique needs are adequately addressed," Moylan said.

During a hearing conducted by the Indo-Pacific Task Force, Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. proposed the creation of the Office of Freely Associated States Affairs.

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