Changes in U.S. Government Affect Island Affairs
by Maradel K. Gale, Director, MSPP

In February discussions by some members in the U.S. Congress to abolish the position of assistant secretary of the interior for territorial and international affairs were preempted by a move by the department itself. Assistant Secretary Leslie Turner announced the closure of the Office of Territorial and International Affairs (OTIA) and the discontinuation of the position of assistant secretary. The remnants of the pool of experts on island affairs are now located in the Office of Insular Affairs in the Secretary of the Interiors office.
Other agencies of the U.S. government are also diminishing their presence in the Pacific. The U.S. Information Agency recently closed its U.S. Information Service office in Fiji, leaving the region devoid of U.S.I.A. representation. Fiji was the last outpost since the closure several years ago of the Pacific Islands Programs Office in Honolulu. Similarly, in recent years the U.S. Agency for International Development Office in Fiji closed.
There remain embassies in Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands. However, these are staffed by foreign-service personnel, who are assigned to a post for only two years before moving to another location. While this policy encourages the maintenance of an outside perspective on the part of the chief of the delegation, it also means there may be little long-term understanding of the culture and issues of the country in which the U.S. is represented.
Within the Pacific Islands Affairs office of the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., the personnel turnover is also rapid. In one year, three out of five staff members have been assigned to other regions. This quick turnover and phasing out of offices is problematic as it weakens the collective memory of United States-Pacific Island relationships and development programs. Some continuity had been supplied by knowledgeable staff members in OTIA, which, as discussed earlier, has been greatly diminished. It would be interesting to know the reasons behind this rapid reduction of U.S. interest in the Pacific. Perhaps it is due to the diminution of strategic importance of the region as the Cold War came to an end. If that is the case, it is a sad commentary that the United States is turning its back on the region and people who suffered so during World War II and for which so many American servicemen and women died. The United States became a very active influence in the development of the islands of Micronesia through the establishment of the Trust Territories of the Pacific Islands. The abruptness of this withdrawal, before the conclusion of the terms of the Compacts of Free Association, is unfortunate. It is a disservice to the people of the region and to the hard work and efforts of the many people who served in this region during the trusteeship.