by Andrew Walden
What lies behind Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA) support for the US Department of Interior’s push toward “Reorganizing the Native Hawaiian Community as an Indian Tribe” and CNHA’s bizarre, November, 2012, push for Interior Department oversight of Hawaiian Homelands? According to the Interior Department Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) just-released “Investigative Report of Anthony Babauta” the answer may be money, power, and “personal relationships.”
Babauta, the Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Affairs, was placed on administrative leave November 17, 2012 and resigned, effective February 1, 2013, days after OIG investigators interrogated several Guamanian politicians and “a CNHA executive.” OIG’s report states:
On October 19, 2012, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s (DOI) Office of the Solicitor (SOL) brought allegations to the Office of Inspector General (OIG) that former Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs Anthony Babauta mistreated his employees through discrimination and sexual harassment, misused Government equipment and personnel, and took personal trips under the guise of official business. These allegations originated from Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) employees, some of whom filed Equal Employment Opportunity complaints against him.
The report explains: “OIA Director Nikolao Pula said he became concerned a few months after Babauta became the assistant secretary when Babauta selected four young women to work closely with him and travel with him frequently….Babauta reportedly told (an) OIA technical assistance division employee that she had a ‘hot ass.’ … (Babauta) said that he hired them not because of gender but because he knew (the four) from when they worked on Capitol Hill, and they were ‘terrific performers.’”
But one OIA employee told investigators “…the most egregious problem within OIA involved the issuance of grants….” The report continues:
After initiating our investigation on October 26, 2012, we received further information that Babauta may have directed OIA grants to friends, and we incorporated this into our investigation….
We investigated the following allegations pertaining to contracts and grants:
- a proposed contract to the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement;
- two grants to the Micronesian Center for a Sustainable Future; and
- two grants to the Guamanian nongovernmental organization Payu-Ta, Inc.
One of the “friends” Babauta attempted to “direct grants to” is identified in the report as the “CNHA executive” questioned by OIG. According to the OIG report, Babauta’s efforts to direct grants and sole-source contracts to CNHA were thwarted by career personnel at Interior. But even a failed grab for federal money has apparently been enough for CNHA to turn DHHL and OHA inside out.
Hawai’i Free Press efforts to confirm this refers to former CNHA CEO Robin Danner drew no response from Danner. CNHA’s current CEO Michelle Kauhane said only: “I have not read the report. What I can tell you is that CNHA did not receive a contract for work then or now.” The report the CNHA CEO clams she has not read begins with a two page section subtitled simply “Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement.“
Babauta addressed the 2010 and 2011 CNHA conventions, telling delegates in 2011:
“I want to extend a personal and heartfelt dankulu na si Yu'us ma'ase and Mahalo to the CNHA Board, its Chairman Alvin Parker, and to Robin Puanani Danner, a woman who a little over a year ago I did not know personally and today, because of her vision, because of her tireless energy and because of her brilliant way of continuously connecting people and ideas, she is someone I have come to know well and she has been integral in our efforts to forge unique opportunities and intra-island collaboration and partnerships…..”
At 2011 CNHA Conv -- From left to right: Krystal Ka'ai, CAPAC Asst. Coordinator, Terrina Gogue, APAICS Program and Communications Associate, Robin Danner, CNHA President & CEO, DOI Asst. Secy. Anthony Babauta, Michelle Kauhane, Dept. of Hawaiian Home Lands Deputy Director and Lisa Hasegawa, National CAPACD Executive Director
The Interior Department has been quietly posting “Advanced Notices of Proposed Rulemaking” since September, 2012. When news of the Interior Department’s secretive “rule making” finally leaked out, Kauhane gushed: "It is extraordinary that the federal government is going through a process that would implement a policy that would be specifically for Native Hawaiians."
In a November, 2012 announcement--CNHA and its affiliates suddenly began pushing for the Interior Department to establish oversight of the State Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. Then-CNHA-President Danner enthused:
"It’s been 90 years since the congress enacted the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act. In all that time the federal government has not developed standard rules to follow which is very standard protocol for laws passed by the congress. With President Obama re-elected for another four years, this is the perfect time to create a new relationship with the Department of Interior to work together to chart a new course for the next 90 years - exciting times!"
The resulting infighting at DHHL quickly led to the December 12, 2012 dismissal of Kauhane followed by Kauhane’s dramatic February, 2013 Senate testimony against the nomination of Jobie Masagatani as DHHL director, and DHHL’s subsequent refusal to co-sponsor the CHNA 2013 convention at which Kauhane was confirmed as CNHA CEO.
Why was the US Department of Interior suddenly placed at the center of CNHA’s approach to DHHL and OHA in 2012? The Inspector General’s report provides the backstory:
When we interviewed the CNHA executive, she said she did not know Babauta before he was selected as the Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas, but she said that since that time, she had developed a personal relationship with him. According to her, CNHA did not previously have contracts or grants with OIA, but she acknowledged that, at Babauta’s request, she traveled to Washington, DC, in January 2012 to meet with Babauta and his staff to discuss a contract with OIA to manage Island Business Link, a component of the Pacific Business Partnership Initiative. The CNHA executive said the contract was Babauta’s idea, and she had never heard of Island Business Link before he mentioned it.
Island Business Link is a now-defunct website designed to link businesses in US territories with “procurement opportunities.” It had been run under a grant to the University of Hawaii. Robin Danner’s Pacific Business Partnership Initiative groups contractors seeking millions of dollars in “8-a" and “Hubzone” federal contacts delivered to “disadvantaged” shell companies which subcontract the work and profit from the difference.
Babauta, a Guamanian politician, had been the first political appointee to head the Interior Department’s work with US Territories and associated states in over 15 years. In his resignation letter, with no sense of irony, he told Interior Secretary Salazar:
I applaud you for agreeing with congressional leaders in re-establishing the position of Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas after more than a decade during which a lower level official headed the Office of Insular Affairs. That act alone was an important contribution to Federal insular policy and relations. This renewed tradition of Presidential political appointment should continue. It tells the often forgotten islands that they will get the respect and dignity of advocacy at the highest of political levels that they deserve and that the progress we have made will move forward.
The Obama administration took Babauta’s advice and Esther Kia'aina was nominated by President Obama to replace Babuta September 11, 2013. Like Babauta, Kiaaina previously served on the staff of Congressmen Robert Underwood. Kiaaina’s nomination was confirmed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee December 19, 2013. Three days later Kiaaina was at the University of Guam meeting with Underwood and speaking to graduates.
Two page section titled “Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement” (emphasis and links added)
We interviewed an OIA Guam employee who stated that the most egregious problem within OIA involved the issuance of grants. She believed that Babauta had pushed grants upon the office that would not have otherwise been funded. She recalled that Babauta wanted OIA to issue a grant to the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA) for the Island Business Link project because OIA needed a host organization to manage that grant. The project was for an interactive website designed to improve economic development in the insular areas. OIA learned that it could not give CNHA the grant, she said, so Babauta told her in September 2011 to develop a sole source contract with the organization.
The OIA Guam employee later sent an email to OIG clarifying that Babauta originally wanted to create a partnership with CNHA and had only two options: a grant or a contract. She said that a partnership could not be enacted with a Hawaiian nonprofit via a grant, so a contract was the only choice.
The OIA Guam employee did not understand why CNHA, a Native Hawaiian activist group that only dealt with Hawaiians and did not include Micronesians or American Samoans, should run the program. She surmised that Babauta wanted CNHA to market Island Business Link because CNHA’s leadership had ties with senators and other politicians. She specifically noted that a CNHA executive was a good friend of then U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI). The OIA Guam employee said that when she expressed her concerns to Babauta, he told her the project was for economic development, and she needed to “get on board.” She said she followed Babauta’s direction and met with CNHA in an effort to develop the contract.
The OIA Guam employee said she believed Babauta intended to use his position as the Assistant Secretary to further his political aspirations and career, although he never directly told her this. She believed, however, that Babauta thought the CNHA executive had a lot of clout that could later be leveraged for Babauta’s own political aspirations.
According to the OIA Guam employee, Babauta told her he wanted to sole source the project to CNHA. She spoke to an attorney-advisor with DOI’s Office of the Solicitor, who then met with Babauta and told him he could not do this. When asked about the Government’s need for the CNHA contract, the OIA Guam employee said she did not believe it was needed because OIA could do the work. She said that although Babauta was told that he could not award CNHA a sole-source contract for the project, CNHA could still compete for the contract. She reiterated that Babauta told her he wanted CNHA to do the project.
When we interviewed the CNHA executive, she said she did not know Babauta before he was selected as the Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas, but she said that since that time, she had developed a personal relationship with him. According to her, CNHA did not previously have contracts or grants with OIA, but she acknowledged that, at Babauta’s request, she traveled to Washington, DC, in January 2012 to meet with Babauta and his staff to discuss a contract with OIA to manage Island Business Link, a component of the Pacific Business Partnership Initiative.
The CNHA executive said the contract was Babauta’s idea, and she had never heard of Island Business Link before he mentioned it. According to her, Babauta said it was an opportunity for CNHA to join in a cooperative agreement with OIA.
Babauta acknowledged that he was friends with the CNHA executive and believed he was introduced to her in 2010. He said that he favored having CNHA manage Island Business Link, which was previously operated by the University of Hawaii. When asked if he recommended that OIA issue a sole-source contract to CNHA to operate the website, Babauta responded that he recommended that it made sense for CNHA to manage the website in conjunction with the work that they were doing with the Pacific Business Partnership Initiative. He continued: “I thought it made sense for CNHA to manage it versus interns at the University of Hawaii that weren’t involved with the initiative.” He said he did not have any Government contract training and did not understand the meaning of a sole-source contract. Babauta said he assumed that Government procurement rules did not apply to CNHA because it was a nonprofit organization, and OIA routinely gave grants to nonprofit organizations.
When asked if any of his staff indicated that they were uncomfortable with him directing them to prepare the statement of work for a sole-source contract with CNHA, Babauta recalled that the OIA Guam employee might have told him she was more comfortable keeping the contract with the University of Hawaii. He did not believe the OIA Guam employee fully appreciated the vision of the CNHA and Pacific Business Partnership Initiative.
Babauta denied that his recommendations had anything to do with his friendship with the CNHA executive. He admitted that he spoke to her sometime in 2011 about the potential contract with CNHA because he “thought managing the website paired well with the Pacific Business Partnership Initiative” and wanted to get an idea of CNHA’s capabilities for the project. Babauta recalled that he invited the CNHA executive to meet with his staff at one point to tell them about her organization and capabilities. Babauta said he also wanted to give the OIA Guam employee a “sense of confidence” that CNHA was a better fit and was just as capable as the University of Hawaii to manage the Island Business Link website.
Babauta believed his staff talked to procurement experts about the potential contract with CNHA. He did not know the status of the contract and did not believe the website was operational.
Details in the OIG report dovetail with a timeline of public events:
2008: Babauta’s former girlfriend said she met Babauta around August 2008 when he was working as the lead staff member for the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, and was working for U.S. Congressman Vic Snyder (D-AK). They started dating a few months later, she said, and were in a relationship for about 1 ½ years, during which time Babauta became the assistant secretary. -- DoI IG Report pg 26 (NOTE: The House Natural Resources Committee considered all House versions of the Akaka Bill.)
2009: Babauta Appointed Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs by Pres Obama
DoI IG Report pg 23 – “OIA Director Nikolao Pula said he became concerned a few months after Babauta became the assistant secretary when Babauta selected four young women to work closely with him and travel with him frequently….Babauta reportedly told the OIA technical assistance division employee that she had a ‘hot ass.’”
DoI IG Report pg 25 – “He said that he hired them not because of gender but because he knew them from when they worked on Capitol Hill, and they were ‘terrific performers.’”
May, 2010: Babauta breaks up with girlfriend
October, 2010: Babauta Addresses 9th CNHA Convention
May 26, 2011: Tony Babauta and Robin Danner interviewed on Guam PNC Radio, Part 2, Part 3
DoI IG Report pg 30-31 –(Guam Gov. Calvo) said he was surprised when Babauta did not attend the 15th Micronesian Chief Executives Summit in Pohnpei from July 25 through July 28, 2011….During an interview with Babauta, we asked if he had ever arranged Government travel specifically to meet women…. He acknowledged that he sometimes had a female companion meet him when he traveled for work but said he never used Government travel for personal gain.
August 23, 2011: Pacific Business Partnership Initiative Focus of Hawaiian Business Summit led by NHOA
August 25, 2011: Babauta at CNHA Convention -- “I want to extend a personal and heartfelt dankulu na si Yu'us ma'ase and Mahalo to the CNHA Board, its Chairman Alvin Parker, and to Robin Puanani Danner, a woman who a little over a year ago I did not know personally and today, because of her vision, because of her tireless energy and because of her brilliant way of continuously connecting people and ideas, she is someone I have come to know well and she has been integral in our efforts to forge unique opportunities and intra-island collaboration and partnerships…..”
September 8, 2011: Gov Abercrombie appoints Danner to Native Hawaiian Roll Commission
September, 2011 CNHA Convention: APAICS and the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement Announce Strategic Partnership to Build Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Political Pipeline (see photo of Danner, Babauta, Kauhane and others)
DoI IG Report pg 21 -- We interviewed an OIA employee in the grants division, who described Babauta as a bully. When asked about the allegations of sexual harassment, he said that at an OIA holiday party in 2011, Babauta walked into the room and put his hands on the shoulders of an OIA U.S. Virgin Islands employee and whispered something in her ear. When Babauta left the room, the OIA Virgin Islands employee, who appeared intoxicated, became very upset and said: “I’m not his fucking wife.” The grants division employee also reported that when he, Babauta, and an OIA employee in the technical assistance division returned to the office on one occasion, Babauta observed a female employee wearing “spiked heels” and commented: “I’ve always thought that a woman should have a pair of whore shoes to wear.” He later clarified that Babauta said “hooker” shoes.
January, 2012: “CNHA executive” travels to meet Babauta in Washington, discuss contract.
August, 2012: CNHA in American Samoa
September, 2012: Feds Secretly “Reorganizing the Native Hawaiian Community as an Indian Tribe”—Since 2012
October 19, 2012: OIG initiates investigation of Babauta
October 26, 2012: OIG expands scope of investigation
November 6, 2012 Obama Reelected
November 17, 2012: Babauta on Admin Leave -- Babauta defended his record, saying he thought he had “improved” the office he ran and that his work had “benefitted my island brothers and sisters.”
November 26, 2012: CNHA Suddenly seeks Interior Department ‘oversight’ of DHHL
December 12, 2012: Kauhane dismissed from DHHL.
January 15, 2013: UoG Pres Underwood, other Guam officials, Interrogated by DoI Inspector General Office
January 16, 2013: Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announces plan to resign
January 24, 2013: Babauta Resigns from DoI effective Feb 1 PDF: Resignation Letter
January 29, 2013: Guam Speaker Urges Obama to Appoint Another Islander to Insular Affairs
May, 2013: As DHHL War Rages, Robin Danner announces plan to Relinquish Presidency of CNHA
September 4, 2013: New Interior Secretary Sally Jewell Addresses CNHA Convention -- Danner resigns and Kauhane becomes CNHA CEO.
Sept, 2013: Esther Kia'aina Nominated by President Obama to replace Babuta Sept 11, 2013. Nomination approved by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee December 19, 2013. Three days later Kiaaina was at the University of Guam meeting with Underwood and speaking to Graduating class. Kiaaina previously served as Chief of Staff for Congressmen Robert Underwood.
PDF: Investigative Report of Anthony Babauta