A delegation led by Speaker Peter M. Christian has returned from a successful series of meetings in Washington with counterparts in the US Congress on a range of pressing issues including Compact implementation, the recent sub accident, and the status of a planned fiber optic cable project.
Accompanying the Speaker were Isaac V. Figir, Chairman of the Committee on External Relations; Dohsis Halbert, Chairman of the Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations; and John Ehsa, Staff Director of Budget and Administration. The delegation was assisted by Jesse B. Marehalau, FSM Ambassador to the US; lobbyist Mick Staton; Legal Counsel Jim Stovall; and other Embassy staff and consultants.
A full slate of meetings were held over the course of two days, including sessions with Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Meetings also were held with key staff of the House Resources Committee, House Committee on International Relations, and the Department of Interiors Office of Insular Affairs.
Members expressed their concern with aspects of the Compact implementation process and the need for effective periodic Congressional reviews, as mandated in the amended Compact. Their counterparts shared this concern and pledged to work together to arrive at a successful Compact outcome.
The slow pace of progress by the US military on the fiber optic project and difficulties with communication after the USS San Francisco submarine incident were the central themes of the meeting with Senator McCain. The Senator expressed his intent to contact Defense Department representatives to discuss both matters.
Discussions with Senator Bingaman also touched on these issues but focused on Compact-related matters. Al Stayman of the Committee staff provided an update on efforts to improve upon existing Compact provisions in light of recent developments.
Other meetings during the week were equally productive, providing an opportunity for the Members to raise a wide range of issues and concerns, among them TSA regulations for air transport in the FSM, veteranšs benefits for FSM citizens serving in the US military, and immigration requirements for FSM citizens transiting through Guam.
The delegation arrived in Washington on February 14 and returned to the FSM following the successful conclusion of meetings the remainder of the week.
Members are currently in their districts in preparation for the upcoming elections, but will return to Palikir for the start of the Seventh Special Session of Congress, scheduled to begin on March 21.