Obama nominates Hawaiian politician to lead Office of Insular Affairs

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ST. THOMAS - President Barack Obama is nominating a Hawaiian politician to help the Office of Insular Affairs for the U.S. Department of the Interior.

In her role as Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs, Esther Kia'aina would coordinate federal policy for the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa if confirmed by the U.S. Senate, according to a press release from the Interior Department.

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

If confirmed, Kia'aina would replace Eileen Sobeck, who has been the acting assistant secretary since February. Sobeck is expected to return to her former position as deputy assistant secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Sobeck took over the position of Anthony Babauta, who resigned Feb. 1 as assistant secretary of the Office of Insular Affairs.

In November last year, Babauta was placed on leave pending an investigation by the Interior Department's Inspector General.

"While the Department has not reached any conclusions, the assistant secretary has been placed on administrative leave pending the investigation," department spokesman Blake Androff said in a written statement issued in November about Babauta.

Department officials could not be reached Wednesday to comment on the status of the investigation or the status of Babauta as a department official.

Kia'aina currently holds the position of First Deputy Director of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources of Hawaii.

She has served as Chief Advocate for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and was a land asset manager for the Kamehameha Schools Land Asset Division.

She also served as chief of staff for Guam Delegate Robert Underwood and Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawaii, and also as legislative assistant for Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii. She has a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California and a law degree from the George Washington University Law School.

"I am pleased that Esther Kia'aina has been tapped to hold this important post for the territories," territorial Congresswoman Donna Christensen said in a prepared statement issued Wednesday.

"I worked with her when she led former Guam Delegate Robert Underwood's congressional office, and I am confident that she knows the territories, including the U.S. Virgin Islands," she said. "We are lucky to have her fill this post."

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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