Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he is standing by his statements regarding the US Department of the Interior despite Deputy Assistant Secretary Cohen’s recent remarks to Samoa News published on March 3, 2007.
In response to Republican efforts to apply federal minimum wage rates to American Samoa and in an effort to save American Samoa’s economy, Faleomavaega wrote to US Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne on January 24, 2007 and requested his support of Special Industry Committees for American Samoa and CNMI.
“Secretary Kempthorne and Deputy Assistant Cohen know full well that anything less would destroy both economies,” Faleomavaega said. “This is why I was very disappointed in the Department of Interior’s reply to my letter on behalf of the people of American Samoa. Secretary Kempthorne directed Mr. Cohen to respond on his behalf and, while I included Mr. Cohen’s letter with the press release I issued last week, I believe it is important to include the full text below.”
In his response dated February 28, 2007, Mr. Cohen said:
Dear Mr. Faleomavaega:
Thank you for your letter of January 24, 2007, requesting support for Special Industry Committees for the United States territories of American Samoa and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). Secretary Kempthorne has asked that I respond to your letter.
I know that you are very familiar with the history of the minimum wage and its application to American Samoa and the other United States territories. As you know, the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act established minimum wages in American Samoa since 1956 through its Special Industry Committee process while other U.S. territories, Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands for example, were later subject to this process prior to reaching the full United States minimum wage.
As I learned from our service together during the Special Industry Committee hearings in 2001, the process is designed to take into account the special needs and circumstances of fragile, small island economies such as that of American Samoa.
Under the Federal statute, as you know, a Federal Special Industry Committee is convened every two years by the U.S. Department of Labor with the charge to increase the minimum wage in the territory as rapidly as is economically feasible without substantially curtailing employment. This Committee, as you also know, is to carefully consider economic analyses, industry competition, and the testimony of representatives of labor, industry and government before establishing the highest minimum wages rates consistent with sustained employment in the territory.
I appreciate your having brought your concerns to the attention of the Secretary.
David B. Cohen
“Clearly, nowhere in Mr. Cohen’s letter is there even a mention that the US Department of the Interior would support American Samoa and CNMI on the issue of minimum wage now being debated in Congress and I am confident that anyone that reads Mr. Cohen’s letter will see that no support was offered or mentioned,” Faleomavaega said.
“Given Mr. Cohen’s lack of response,” the Congressman continued, “it is even more surprising that as of March 3, 2007 he has now gone on record to Samoa News stating that ‘the Bush Administration supports the proposed minimum wage increase that excludes American Samoa.’ While it begs the question why he didn’t just include this information in his letter to me, it is welcome news that the Bush Administration is on board with us and it is my intention to inform Chairman George Miller of the House Education and Labor Committee as well as Senator Kennedy, Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee of these latest developments. In fact, I will be forwarding Mr. Cohen’s statement to the Speaker’s office as well.”
Regarding Mr. Cohen’s assertion as reported by Samoa News on March 3, 2007 in which he states:
‘We consulted with his (Faleomavaega) staff in advance to make sure we included things in the letter that he specifically wanted included.'
“I must say this is simply not true. My staff did not draft the letter that Mr. Cohen sent to me. My staff was also not consulted in advance to make sure Mr. Cohen included things in the letter that he specifically thought I wanted included. In fact, my staff had no contact with DOI and DOI had no discussions with my staff regarding this issue. It is unfortunate that Mr. Cohen has been led to believe otherwise especially given that DOI, like all other federal agencies, has a team of congressional liaisons that are supposed to be devoted to making sure that they work in close cooperation with Congressional offices so that the Secretary is not embarrassed by the failures of his personnel.”
“I am hopeful that in the future DOI will make a greater effort to be more responsive to American Samoa’s needs,” Faleomavaega concluded.