Chairwoman Bordallo and members of the Subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss H.R. 4339.
H.R. 4339, the Dr. Rita Hocog Inos Fellowship Act, would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to fund fellowships for United States citizen college students domiciled in the CNMI to spend a semester or summer in a local CNMI government office or a Federal government office, including a congressional office. Stipends would be $6,000 per semester or $4,000 per summer plus a travel stipend of up to $1,500. An agency accepting a fellow would have to provide activities encouraging professional development, job skill training, networking activities, and community service activities. Within three years after enactment, the Secretary of the Interior would be required to report to the Congress on the fellowship program.
The Department of the Interior supports opportunities for young persons from the United States territories and freely associated states to learn about their local and national governments. For many years, the Office of Insular Affairs has provided funding for the Close-up program to bring high school students from the islands to visit Washington, D.C., New York, Philadelphia, and Williamsburg. OIA Close-up funding for fiscal year 2011 is expected to be $1 million for 145 students plus two dozen teachers from the U.S. territories and the freely associated states. Closeup students and teachers experience their government in action first-hand by visiting Executive branch offices and attending committee hearings and legislative sessions of Congress. Additionally, the Office of Insular Affairs expects to provide $276,000 in fiscal year 2011 to support the participation of four students from each insular area in the six-week Junior State of America (JSA) summer program. JSA host universities have included Georgetown, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale. The purpose of the JSA is to help students acquire leadership skills and the knowledge of governmental processes.
Additionally, the Federal government has a number of intern and student programs that provide opportunities for persons to gain experience with both the Congress and the Executive branch.
The Department of the Interior opposes the enactment of H.R. 4339. First, it is duplicative of numerous programs that provide students with exposure to the Federal government. Second, the bill would limit participation to students domiciled in the CNMI; students from other territories and the freely associated states would not be included. Third, while this would be a Federal program under the auspices of the Secretary of the Interior, there would be a local component in the CNMI, which would be better funded and administered by the CNMI itself. Fourth, legislated content requirements of the program would likely burden local and Federal agencies with additional tasks and costs, as would the bill's reporting requirements. Fifth, severe budget constraints prevent the funding of such a program for any time into the foreseeable future.
The Department of the Interior encourages students with an interest in gaining experience with government to participate in existing travel, intern and student programs. The experience will be well worth their while.