Compact Mess - Honolulu news paper article

Interior Department bungling making COFA mess worse
By Neil Mellen
May 31, 2016

Communities on Hawaii and Guam are suffering. The flood of migrants from Freely Associated States (FAS) strains taxpayer-funded education, health, public safety and social services.

Every year, Hawaii taxpayers shoulder $100 million in costs for programs guaranteed under the terms of the Compacts of Free Association (COFA). On Guam, the cost is over $50 million. The amount sent from Washington to offset these expenses? Just 16 cents for every dollar spent.

Nearly half of FAS migrants in Hawaii draw public food assistance. On Guam, the number is 58 percent. In Hawaii, nearly a third also receive supplemental welfare payments. A third of FAS migrants on Guam reside in public housing, and the number in Hawaii is presumed even higher. About 5 percent of migrants on Guam and 12 percent in Hawaii, are homeless. Only small numbers maintain health insurance and participate in preventative care. The result is costly emergency room visits.

This could have been avoided. Since 1951, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has spent hundreds of millions in American tax dollars to advance social, political and economic development in Micronesia and the Marshalls.

The failure is startling. Leaving stagnant, semi-cash, local economies for better lives on Guam or Hawaii is no longer just a rational choice for many FAS migrants; it is virtually axiomatic.

In recent years, Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) has reacted to its own blunders by further micromanaging the hundreds of millions in aid that it is obligated to provide.

In some cases, OIA has simply withheld the money. Predictably, this has fueled the exodus.

Rather than deal with the underlying problems it helped create, OIA is now training migrants to maximize their dependency on taxpayer-funded services in Guam and Hawaii. This disastrous policy includes awarding grants to so-called “One-Stop Centers.”

Caseworkers at these centers are trained to immediately sign up migrants for entitlements, equipping them to aggressively cash in on the vast number of benefits available.

One DOI-funded group goes further, organizing migrants to advocate for changing what they term “unjust laws and practices that affect Micronesians in areas of health care, housing, labor, and education services.”

Taxpayer money for these groups was cannibalized from a Technical Assistance fund intended to promote accountability, financial management and economic development within the FAS itself.

Bizarrely, OIA rejected a counterproposal to educate and train would-be migrants before they left the FAS. This alternative sought to reduce migration rates through peer-to-peer education, and cut down on taxpayer costs incurred by those who did choose to leave. It emphasized integration through cross-cultural training and civic engagement, mirroring training U.S. Peace Corps volunteers receive when headed to live in the FAS.

That proposal also included third-party evaluation and cost-benefit analysis, accountability evidently lacking in the One Stop Centers DOI chose to fund instead.

America has a long-term strategic interest in a friendly, functional and prosperous Micronesia (FSM) and Marshall Islands (RMI). Hawaii and Guam bear a disproportionate and uncompensated burden from this national responsibility. OIA is undermining its — and our nation’s — own goals.

Like a physician who ignores the underlying illness, OIA is prescribing costly, ineffective treatments, worsening both symptoms and the root causes.

FAS and American citizens alike deserve better. America needs to correct its important relationship with the FAS.

That requires expertise in development as well as foreign relations. Replacing bureaucrats from the Office of Insular Affairs with the seasoned and professional diplomats of the U.S. Department of State would be a smart first step.


  • Who is Neil Mellon and what makes him an expert on Micronesia?
  • Just wondering why the big boss would not justgive what Guam and Hawaii are asking?
  • FM: He may be the founder of "Habele." If so, he was a Peace Corp volunteer in Yap in the early 2000's. He also may be connected or affiliated with conservative political organizations in the US.
  • Why do we care about who the messenger is? Why deflect or misdirect attention away from the real issue? We should focus on the subject matter of the article not the messenger. What Mr. Mellon is saying is true, that OIA's micromanagement of the COFA II aid is not really the US Government's agenda in the region but most likely the personal agenda of people within the OIA's office who have been running things with almost no oversight from their government. As a consequence of this, US interests and influence in Micronesia is eroding and could eventually result in the "Balkanization" of Micronesia.

    Perhaps we need new people at the OIA with a fresh perspective on the situation.

  • Neil your homework thoroughly
  • screw america! lets join china and be happy!
  • GO, RUN, GO GET CATS!!! $$$ LOL

    Americans who have spent some time in Micronesia always think that they KNOW the Micronesia that we all know... Here is a raw and brutal honest feedback about Micronesia ~ "Foreigners, you do not know sheet about the "micronesia" the true Micronesia ns know!"
    In fact, YOU WILL NEVER KNOW... because that is just the way things are... accept it and move on.

    THE ONLY WAY THE COFA NATIONS and USA relationship could get better is by true investment of time and energy of people (special folks who can be trusted) by both nations to deal with things...

    In the world of "CULTURAL CORRECTNESS", we ~ Micronesians must know what to do, when, where, and how... IF YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT IS CULTURALLY CORRECT HERE... then GET YOUR BEHIND TO THE BACK OF THE LINE... CUZ until and unless you are "culturally correct, the problems will keep getting bigger and never be solved...

    My question to the American and everyone of you on here, WHY SHOULD USA FUND YOU FOR YOUR OWN RESPONSIBILITY IN YOUR TURF!!! Are you that numb and do not know how to use your own present resources to address the issues?

    Hawaii has the right to cry "help" CUZ they have been very active in addressing COFA issues... Guam not so much, OIA needs to pull some COFA funds from them... lol
  • This guy is ignorant. He forgot that Palau is also party to the COFA. He forget that RMI is no longer a recipient of the Peace corps program. Only Palau and FSM still have Peace corps program. In Guam and CNMI the Major FAS/COFA citizens are from FSM and Palau. In Hawaii its the Marshalls and FSM but has of recent documents FSM citizens are the majority in Hawaii.
  • Is this worst or as hard as the equivalent of one Hiroshima bomb a day for 25 years dropped on the Marshall Islands with the radiation downfall spreading all down wind into Micronesia. Don't forget the past.
  • The real story is the fact that OIA's micromanagement of COFA II is hurting US Government interests in Micronesia. The article is based on this fact and the factual consequences of OIA's mishandling of the problem in Micronesia. All of these are facts not based on opinions.

    So attacking the author of the article is obviously a good strategy because that is the only thing you can attack. As for the facts mentioned in the article, these are truths which cannot be contradicted.

    Propaganda can come in many forms, this is one classic online form especially in forums where a group is engaged in a concerted effort to discredit a comment, story, article, etc by a lone author by attacking and attempting to discredit the author.

    And in this case, this is a classic example of how propaganda works.
  • yo! The author of the article, you~Mike, as well, as the workers of these centers are a bunch of IGNORANT, MISINFORMED AND CONFUSED BUNCH!!! $$! YES, I SAID IT!!!

    I am both your worst nightmare as well, as YOUR SALVATION!!! HOW ELSE CAN I SAY THE HIDDEN TRUTH WITHOUT BEING OFFENSIVE? OIA should not be blamed in this matter ~~ They did the right thing by rejecting the proposals... THEY DID THE WRONG THING BY DISSING OUT THE MONEY TO THIS CENTERS.... Anyway you want to spin this, I will stand still abd tall and shoot STR8T...

    Here is my official M16 shot at this topic...

    CENTERS ~ Need to LEARN... it may seem like they are solving priblems... NO!! THEY ARE TEMPORARILY WATERING THEM...

    My sincere apology for I may have offended some of you... just know, I am not sorry for SPEAKING THE TRUTH!!!

  • There is nothing much the USA can do to stop the flow of Micronesians into the US and its territories. This is what the US agreed to in the Compact Agreements with the FSM and the Marshall Islands and the only benefit the US is getting from these agreements is the denial of other countries to come in and establish their militaries in these islands. More and more with the problem encountered with North Korea, China and Russia, the US is finding this only one benefit to be very important. In the future, those Micronesians that are residing in the US and its territories will eventually integrate themselves into the American society and most of these social problems encountered will no longer exist. To attract those Micronesians to come back to the islands, jobs and economic development are needed. What the US should do is to redirect the use of the Compact funds from social development to economic development which will result in the improved living conditions of the local people.
  • As the Americans themselves are learning from Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, THE TRUTH SUCKS! Al Gore once called it in a different context, THE INCONVENIENT TRUTH!

    This short piece from Neil Mellen is another version of the Truth (about American confused policy toward Micronesia) that even most of the Micronesian audience on this Forum refuse to acknowledge. But in a few sentences, Mr Mellen does restate the historic truth about past-present-and-future US-Micronesian relations: THE US HAS A STRATEGIC NEED FOR A HOPEFULLY DEVELOPED AND PROSPEROUS MICRONESIA WHICH TO DATE HAS BEEN ELUSIVE, AND MADE WORSE BY AMERICAN OWN POLICIES AND PERFORMANCES.

    The latest example(s) will be (1) the Five Year Review by the US Congress on the Amended Compact, and (2) the final analysis of the Chuuk Education Reform also imposed and administered by the OIA, including its so-called "High Level Advisory Group" charged with overseeing the implementation of the Chuuk Education Reform under the Amended Compact and consisted of (1) Micronesia's own Father Hezel; (2) Palau Community College President Pat Tellei, and (3) OIA Director and former Peace Corp Volunteer in Chuuk, Tom Bussanich.

    Anybody can almost predict now, given all of the literature on recent American Compact management in Micronesia, that the next US Government report on the Compact and Amended Compact echo the same verdict of the past decades that the Compact have failed to develop the Micronesian islands, and because the island people and governments are part of these colossal failures, the US will not be willing to extend economic and financial support on previous scales or terms. The failure to develop a prosperous strategic Micronesia will cause the US to continue its policy direction toward further restrictions and distant responsibilities (toward Micronesia), and at the same time continue restricting Micronesian access to other international assistance from spheres like China. US post Compact-era policies toward Micronesia have been a combination of policies toward Guam and Iran: it encourages further dependence (toward Guam) and punishes or sanctions for failures to perform or comply (toward Iran).

    The US attitude toward Compact era Micronesia is very puzzling and hard to understand. If economic sustainability is part of the Goal of the Compact relationship, then why is OIA not allowing the FSM governments to develop their islands on their own terms or needs? And if OIA and the US harbors deep distrust about the islanders' ability to manage the Compact development programs, why don't they go in themselves and pave the roads, extend the electricity and finance the banking systems to expand the commercial development? They do not seem to hesitate to override any local FSM decision on development project management and substitute their own ideas for development, including diverting development priorities from those proposed by the FSM governments. During the recent Typhoon Maysak that struck Chuuk and Yap, the US decided to keep the relief effort management to the US State Department AID and until today, 2 years after the disaster, a lot of affected people in Chuuk are still awaiting their supposedly urgent relief housing assistance! If you think the US emergency response in New Orleans was despicable during Tyhpoon Katrina, you should have seen some of these Chuukese families having to lived with relatives for years because the US AID IOM is taking its sweet time distancing its relief effort from the islanders that the US so distrust! It is first degree insulting and humiliating, to see American relief workers conducting themselves supposedly to help the islanders and yet acting like they are angels from God, not wanting to have anything to do with the islanders victims! The Chinese Government even donated $500,000 for the Typhoon Maysak relief, and still no accounting as to which aid goes to which relief program!

    This same American attitude is now very evident in the OIA's implementation of the Chuuk Education Reform. OIA used to threaten to withhold funding from Chuuk Education if reforms like laying of uncertified teachers were not implemented. For replacement, OIA authorized import of American Teachers volunteers to take contractual turns teaching in the Chuuk schools. While we are still awaiting the improvement in the children's learning for the past four or five years that the teachers volunteers have been substituting, the long term manpower shortage in Chuuk educators seems to widen (not many people want to come back to teach in Chuuk), and comes 2023, there may not be enough fund to even keep teachers in Chuuk State's classrooms. A lot of Chuukese have already given up on Education Reform, qualitatively and logistically! It's going to be another unfullfilled dream of American development grand design for Micronesia or Chuuk. Chuukese abroad in the US do not even want to pay a $100 tax to help Chuuk after compact funding runs out from 2023 on!

    It's a heck of a confused scenario that we all need to sit down and try to ponder with some clear heads how to proceed under such circumstances.
  • Your reply to Mellen has some good points such as the subtle accusations of the efforts by the U.S. to create a welfare state in Micronesia so we can continue the hungry-induced dependence on them. You must also be fair to the U.S. that the requirement to limit assistance from other counties is a result of a bilateral agreement (Compact). It is not a result of some knifing scheme orchestrated by the U.S. at is own volition - wait, of course it was but then again we were stupid to agree to it.

    You comments are missing some important facts: i.e. the fact that U.S. had to reject some of our failed project managements based on past failures and the fact that you seem to demonize the requirements of degree requirements for Chuuk teachers. It would be crazy to continue the status quo when the first fiscal portion of the Compact was practically wasted. Also, knowing firsthand that Chuuk has policies not to pay judgments, leases of private lands and many of its legal obligations but is trigger-happy when it come to mass trips to outside for "official reasons" at the expense of the local revenue, no one can fault Chuukese for refusing the $100 Chuukese-abroad tax. As a member of the policy-making unit for Chuuk, you need to convince Chuukese that you will not waste local revenues. At least the U.S. can police their funds. What can the poor Chuukese in Texas and Oregon do? Even the Chuukese home cannot do anything about wasteful governments on taxes collected from sales, income (sharing from the FSM), import (shared from the FSM) and other local revenue. It is would be like rapists seeking to set up and run a shelter for emotionally hurt women. One is trying to convince the committee that gives out shelter permits and the women the good things coming like shelter and safety and the good use of funds but not the sure sexual assaults guaranteed to take place.
  • on the outset, was there any reps from US territory of Guam and Hawaii were involved in the negotiation of the COFA? If they shouldn't be, why? I think if we can answer this question then people like me who have little understanding of the matter may or just might get a bits of what may the real causes problems Guam and Hawaii are telling US Government to help them with. Sounds to me like Guam and Hawaii before the ratification and implementation of the Compact gets into force, were somehow didn't see them coming but just after migrated Micronesian becomes the scape goat tool to validate their cry to the white house.

    My humblest fairo to my intelligent, handsome, maverick "uncle"~Mr. AG of Chuuk state. Good going there, sir. You da maan! Hehe I will leave everything to the rest of the forumers here~ what I would like to gently point out and correct are the following:

    1. USA did not initiate the concepts of having "dependent centers" ~ YOU DID! Someone/Some people approached USA with sad stories (aka proposals) to fund Dependency!! If you remember from day one CJ has been loudly opposing creations of these centers... so RELAX. YOU COFA NATIONS WANTED TO CONTINUE YOUR TRADE (MARKETING DEPENDENCY)... BLAME not uncle Sam.

    2. I would ask you this question ~ the Dependency (aka welfare system/mentality) would still take place in Micronesia if money given were used justly (no abuse)? Yes or no? These changes that USA impose on you... we're they before or after the abuse of COFA FUNDS? ... :)

    asese mo...
  • "Neil Mellen was a Peace Corps volunteer in Micronesia (Yap, 2002-05) and leads Habele, an all-volunteer nonprofit based in South Carolina, serving low-income and rural K-12 students within Micronesia."
  • You Americans have the power within your government to rescind the Compact Treaty with the FSM and RMI. Why don't you just go ahead and pull the trigger if you think we're such a burdeon on your government? Why whine and complain about it so much, just fucking go ahead and initiate measures to rescind the Compact Treaty completely instead of trying to micro-manage our countries with your Jewish themed personal agendas.
  • Habele Founder: Interior Dept. Worsening Bad Situation for Migrants

    Submitted by PIR Editor on Tue, 05/31/2016 - 11:34

    AddThis Sharing Buttons
    Share to FacebookShare to TwitterShare to PrintShare to EmailMore AddThis Share options

    Habele Outer Island Education Fund
    Columbia, South Carolina

    May 31, 2016

    America’s Department of State should replace the Department of the Interior (DOI) as the primary US agency responsible for relations with Micronesia. That’s the argument made by former Peace Corps Volunteer and founder of the “Habele” charity in an opinion column [subscription required] published on May 31st on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

    In his editorial, Mellen cites both the struggles of migrants in the US, as well as failure of DOI –and specifically its Office of Insular of Affairs (OIA)– to effectively “advance social, political and economic develop [within] in Micronesia and the Marshalls,” as indicators of the problem.

    Mellen describes the costly efforts of DOI since 1951 as a “startling failure,” sympathizing that for FAS citizens, “leaving stagnant, semi-cash, local economies for better lives on Guam or Hawaii is no longer just a rational choice for many FAS migrants, it is virtually axiomatic.”

    Mellen’s argument for replacing Interior with State stems from his conclusion that correcting the US-FSM relationship is a strategic necessity for the US, and is inseparable from the need for better social and economic development within the Islands. He argues this requires expertise in development as well as foreign relations, which Interior’s own track record fails to reflect. As further evidence, Mellen points to moves by Interior in recent years to “micromanage” or even “withhold” funds from projects in the FSM, obligated by treaties such as the Compact of Free Association (COFA).

    The Department of State is the sole US executive agency formally responsible for diplomacy and international relations. It was the first executive department established by the US in 1789. In Micronesia the same role is filled by the FSM Department of Foreign Affairs.

    The US Department of the Interior is responsible for the management of most federal land and natural resources, the administration of programs for native First Peoples within US, as well as issues pertaining to territories and so-called “insular” areas of the US.

    Micronesia (FSM), Palau, and the Marshall Islands (RMI) are the only three independent, sovereign, nations legally recognized by the United States government whose relationship with the US are not primarily mediated through the US Department of State. According to Mellen, that needs to change.

    Neil Mellen was a Peace Corps volunteer in Micronesia (Yap, 2002-05) and leads Habele, an all-volunteer nonprofit based in South Carolina, serving low-income and rural K-12 students within Micronesia.

    Rate this article:

    Give it 1/5

    Give it 2/5

    Give it 3/5

    Give it 4/5

    Give it 5/5

    Average: 5 (3 votes)

    Add new comment



    Permalink Submitted by Angela E. Vanhorn on Wed, 06/01/2016 - 02:57

    I supported the deeper concern have pointed out from our US Peace Corps, Mr. Neil Mellen about some new enforcement relationship with region, especially the FSM and entire FAS in Micronesia. First priority, United States must put enforcement on law and policy among region on CORRUPTION and follow through! AUDIT, AUDIT, AUDIT for the FSM and Chuuk State is a must, inorder to put local natives (leadership) fully accountable. The other night I was watching a movie titled: “ SICARIO” made in 2015 about crimes -thriller drama. The film was directed by Denis Villeneuve and included famous actor Benicio del Toro. “The movie is about a principled FBI agent who is enlisted by government task force to bring down the leader of a powerful and brutal Mexican drug cartel.” Anyway, watching this crimes-thriller drama movie about other foreign country as Mexico is alarming to see FSM in that certain future. I never travel to Mexico, and never would want to. I don't speak the language and not familiar with their laws, too. United States is a very home for me than the FSM itself. I felt more stranger and awkward in my native land. However, the point in this Sicario movie, is everything is corrupted from Cop to entire society. CORRUPTION is major problem in FSM, and Chuuk State and its getting worse, if United States will continue neglecting its responsibility and not provided improvement on policy in a meaningful US Policy among region in FSM. Respectfully.
  • The "ABORIGINAL" is back???
  • Entitled hippie writing what can I say.
  • Why do these "hippies" who spend 4 years in the peace corps in fsm consider themselves the foremost authority in everything related to Micronesia/FSM? They are mettlesome in trying to impose they're liberal agendas on us. Look at our neighbors in the RMI, the former "hippies/peace corps" are there interfering in the RMIs Politics. Pretty soon they will do the same here....oh my bad they already are.
  • I wish they could roll a blunt and smoke and mind their own business.
  • I appreciate the OIA staff member, former PCV in Chuuk,. He has been very helpful in ensuring Chuuk does not deviate from the requirements, but we in Chuuk are the ones altering the process, taking advantage of obvious loopholes which have caused quite a handful of questionable costs in audits review.
  • You speak the truth, sinbad.
  • The responsibility for the lack of any significant improvement in the economic and social development in Micronesia should be shared by both the COFA nations and the USA(OIA/DOI). The FSM cannot continue to deny that her political leaders and line department technical personnel are free of any blame. Projecting blame on OIA is not solving anything. As a matter of fact, this is prolonging the problems and slow progress that both the FSM and the US desire. The FSM has a very poor track record of improving the quality of education for its students, despite the amount of money that has poured into the education systems in all the FSM states. If one looks at the situation objectively, it becomes very clear that money is being wasted on personnel (teachers, administrators, specialists) who are in the department just to collect a paycheck. And the sad thing is that the management and administrators know this. but they do not have the will to correct the injustice that is being inflicted on the students and the parents and the citizens.

    The US on the other hand had taken the mistaken position that funds derived by the FSM from the COFA arrangement is US money and that it has only to dictate the terms of it use. This approach has resulted in the FSM thinking the US is playing bully and so FSM is naturally rejecting this approach and is very reluctantly making an effort to implement the recommendation by the US side.

    Despite taking opposite sides on the control of the COFA grants, both now recognize they need to work together to improve their image and seriously improve students learning and performance. There may be already a mutual collaborative effort to understand each other and find meaningful solutions to the problems they both agree exist.

    So, instead of pointing fingers and projecting blame they are now meeting more frequently and the US being so far ahead in knowledge and experience is willing to hold the hands of the FSM and walk the states through the confusing task of preparing the budget proposals which will meet OIA and JEMCO approval.

    Let us hope this continues so some real improvement is realized. To fail to achieve that is an admittance that the key personnel in both government responsible to ensure success of the FSM education system deserve to be fired.

    Accountability is very important, whether it is for money spent, or performance by officials, and must be demanded by the citizens. To ignore this fundamental key to responsibility is akin to providing a license to breed corruption in government. And when this occurs, the citizens loose faith in their government. This can result in the breakdown of law and order. Perhaps this is what some people are advocating. Is it a good thing?
  • It is a lesson learned from the first compact which results in current set up which shows to prove how reckless the FSM has been. Now with the Compact II, still we manage to find ways to deviate from set policies intended to make the best out of the Compact funding.

    Consequently, we may not have a Compact III, more than likely. So what plan does the FSM have to supplement the Compact funding source should the US discontinues its assistance and FSM denies right for US to use our air space and others in exchange for that right? Sell fishing rights? lol
  • The US/FSM Compact does not expire in 2023....unless either the US or the FSM or both decide to officially end it. In 2023, the FSM will begin withdrawing funds from the Compact Joint Trust Fund to partially replace the annual sector grants.

    The Compact does not have an expiration date. All provisions of the Compact - except the sector grants - continue after 2023, unless either the US or the FSM or both decide otherwise.
  • FactsMatter,

    Is it possible then that the federal programs funding the FSM is getting may continue?
  • It is likely, in my opinion, that the FSM will remain eligible for U.S. federal programs such as Pell grants, FAA, USDA housing loans, etc.
Sign In or Register to comment.