Stat reporting earns honor
Alvin Onaka guides state vital statistics
Cutting-edge ventures in vital statistics have taken Alvin Onaka to the heady reaches of Washington politics.
Most recently he has been at the forefront of the controversy over Barack Obama's birth certificate.
To battle a spate of unsubstantiated rumors, including one that Obama is not a natural-born U.S. citizen, the Obama campaign launched a Web site called "Fight the Smears." It shows a copy of his Hawaii birth certificate.
Onaka said he has had many calls asking him to confirm Obama's birth certificate, but he cannot disclose such information: "Only Obama can consent to that."
Onaka also cites Hillary Clinton as he explains how Hawaii became the first state to require a bride and groom to declare both their middle names and surnames after marriage.
He said there was confusion about what women could use as a middle name. At the time he looked into it, Clinton was in the White House.
Onaka was working with a colleague in Arkansas and learned there was no legal document indicating what her name is, he said. He called the White House and "was very impressed that the Office of First Lady returned my calls."
Her marriage certificate said she was married to William Jefferson Clinton and that she used the name Hillary Rodham Clinton, Onaka said.
"I used that to convince the Legislature that it is important to declare the middle name. Hawaii was the first to document what legal names were after marriage," he said, adding that other states are copying Hawaii.
That and other pioneering changes in vital statistics over the years under Onaka's leadership led to a recent national award from the International Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems.
Onaka, chief of the state Health Department's Office of Health Status Monitoring, received the Halbert L. Dunn Award for outstanding contributions to the field of vital and health statistics. He was recognized for a 40-year demographic and public health career at international, national and state levels. He has been at the DOH about 20 years.
State Health Director Chiyome Fukino said, "We are proud that Dr. Onaka has been recognized with this prestigious award and brought it home to Hawaii. Alvin is a national leader in the field of vital and health statistics, and the award is well deserved."
Inspired by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2005 contained a subsection called REAL ID to improve the U.S. system for issuing secure identification documents. Hawaii was already working on a process called Electronic Verification of Vital Event (EVVE), and it is piloting a national system, Onaka said.
"You can't travel without a valid ID," Onaka said, and a birth certificate must be used to verify a federally approved ID, driver's license or passport. "There needs to be a system that allows this to occur, and Hawaii is piloting this."
If a person goes to a Social Security office, for example, and presents a birth certificate from Hawaii, the office can input five pieces of information, access a secure database in Hawaii and get a "yes" or "no" answer on whether it is the same information, he said.
"I think we're before our time, but the rest of the world will catch up with us," Onaka said. "It's going to be a reality. ID theft is the most prevalent crime, and others have to have something to combat it."
Onaka said he is also working with passport offices and even the Little League Association on a system to verify birth certificates of the players to prove they are in the right age brackets.