Obama announces intent to nominate Esther Kiaaina for US Department position

Esther Kia'aina

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Kia’aina would serve as the Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas at the U.S. Department of the Interior.

She would lead the Department’s efforts to coordinate federal policy for Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa.

She would also have the responsibility to administer and to oversee Federal assistance to the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau.

Kia’aina currently serves as the First Deputy Director of the Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources. Appointed by Governor Neil Abercrombie to oversee the management of 1.3 million acres of public lands and near shore ocean resources in the State of Hawai’i, Kia’aina has worked on watershed management protection initiatives, threatened and endangered species protection, invasive species control, land and ocean preservation, and strengthening public-private and enforcement partnerships.

“Esther brought a tremendous amount of knowledge, experience and enthusiasm in serving as First Deputy of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources,” Gov. Abercrombie said. “While she will be sorely missed here as part of the DLNR ohana, Esther’s personal and professional background on Capitol Hill, Hawaii, and the Pacific Islands will make her the strongest possible asset to the Interior Secretary.”

Prior to her current position, Kia’aina served as Chief Advocate for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which seeks to improve the conditions of Native Hawaiians. In that role, she was a senior-level manager responsible for overseeing a staff of 36 and a $1.4 million operating budget.

Kia’aina served for nearly two decades on Capitol Hill, as Chief of Staff to former U.S. Representatives Ed Case (D-Hawai’i) and Robert A. Underwood (D-Guam), and as Legislative Assistant to former U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawai’i).

She was instrumental in the passage of numerous legislative initiatives impacting Native Hawaiians, U.S. territories and the freely associated states.

“Congratulations to Esther on her selection as DOI Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas,” Senator Mazie Hirono said. “Esther has a long record of advancing the priorities of both Hawaii and native peoples in Washington, serving our state in leadership roles in both the House and Senate. In particular, she has been a strong and consistent advocate for the Native Hawaiian community throughout her time in public service.”

“Esther Kia’aina is a tremendous choice by President Obama for this important post at the Department of the Interior,” said Senator Brian Schatz. “Esther has had a distinguished career in public service, during which she has developed significant expertise in Native Hawaiian issues and land management. This is one of the few Senate confirmed positions for which a local Hawaiian leader has been nominated. I congratulate her on this worthy nomination, and look forward to a speedy confirmation process. The people and state of Hawai’i will be better served with Esther Kia’aina as Assistant Secretary of Insular Areas.”

A graduate of the Kamehameha Schools in Honolulu, Kia’aina received a Juris Doctor degree from the George Washington University Law School in 1998 and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and International Relations from the University of Southern California in 1985. She also attended the Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C.

If confirmed, Kia’aina would replace Acting Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas Eileen Sobeck, who has held the position since February 2013, and would return to her former position as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.

The Secretary of the Interior has administrative responsibility for coordinating federal policy in the territories and is responsible for administering grant and budget assistance for three Freely Associated States under the Compacts of Free Association. The Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas and Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) carry out these responsibilities on behalf of the Secretary.

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