I've met a lot of federal officials over the past two days.
Some top officials from Fish & Wildlife are here about the Marine Monument--Barbara Maxfield, Barry Stieglitz, Donald Palawski; and also from NOAA--William Robinson. They are meeting with local government officials and conducting their first field review about the national marine monument, designated in January 2009 by then-President Bush.
They have the words of the proclamation and of the designation of DFW as lead agency, but apparently a lot of the groundwork, fieldwork, and framework from the process leading up to the designation has been lost by the change in Presidential administrations.
Here's what I understood would be two of the first agenda items for the Monument management:
1) fishing regulations, which are on the agenda for the next Wespac meeting scheduled for March 17-19, 23-25, 2009 in PagoPago, American Samoa; and
2) NEPA--environmental impact statements. There is a lot of groundwork that goes into one of these; and apparently DFW is looking to get started on the baseline fundamentals. (Lauri, Angelo--please correct me if I got this wrong...)
There is no fixed timeline, but some targeted dates:
4/11/2009--advisory council in place. This date is based on the proclamation language "within 3 months of the date of this proclamation." It is unlikely that this date will be met since the appointment is by the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior, and right now we don't yet have a Secretary of Commerce, although President Obama has nominated Gary Locke.
Governor Fitial's selections may not qualify, either, as the proclamation requires that the advisors be members of the local government.
8/2010--I think this was the target date for draft regulations, with the hope that they would be in place by 12/2010.
2011--Monument included in 2011 budget. It seems to be already too late to include the monument in the 2010 budget. It may be too late for the 2011 budget...
2013--full operation of Monument.
USCIS Application Support Center
Today marked the official opening of the US Citizenship and Immigration Service's Application Support Center in Saipan. This is part of the operation to federalize immigration here.
Present for the ceremony were Michael Aytes--Acting Deputy Director of USCIS, Carolyn Muzyka--Regional Director of the Western Region of USCIS, David Gulick--District Director headquartered in Honolulu, HI, and Walter Haith--Field Office Director from Guam. Other dignitaries came as well, including TSA official (Michael Connolly?), federal Court Judge Munson, DOI representative Jeff Schorr, and CNMI dignitaries including Governor Benigno Fitial, Mayor Juan B. Tudela, and Immigration Chief Mel Grey.
The ASC office is open and has the capacity to do "biometrics"--meaning fingerprinting, photographing, and getting electronic signatures. The staff gave a quick demonstration of how they do these. They have already been doing these things since 3/2/2009, but there is a small snafu for those applying for green cards. Right now USCIS still reads the various laws as requiring "admission upon inspection" and therefore says applicants must still travel to Guam. They are looking into the possibility of changing that, and will change it for sure on the start date of the federalization/transition.
There is some strong speculation that the start date will be delayed and that federalization will not start on June 1, 2009. It can be delayed as much as six months (to 12/1/2009), but could also be delayed for a shorter period of time.
The problem from the USCIS point-of-view seems to be that regulations are not in place, and the time for getting them in place is running out. USCIS does not want to start operation without regulations already in place. Given that regs usually need a 60 day comment period and then republication in adopted form, and we only have about 82 days from now before June 1, 2009, it seems like the time is too limited for a prompt start.
The USCIS officials present were an interesting mix of diplomat and bureaucrat. They got in their soundbites--about being a service provider, about wanting to do things right, about being available and open for comment and information, but they also didn't answer some direct questions, like whether there would be a delay in the start-up date. They expressly denied that there would be any amnesty by the agency, although they acknowledged that Congress could move in that direction.
They also have a policy man in the Saipan office--Fred Ongcapin--who is here to get a better grasp of some of the trickier issues and then go back to Washington and work on them.
All in all, the prospects from today's events seemed hopeful.