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OHA strategy hedges Akaka bet


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POSTED: Sunday, September 27, 2009

The reorganization at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs positions the agency for the eventual passage of the Akaka Bill, which would pave the way for native Hawaiians to achieve a limited form of self-rule similar to that of American Indians and Alaska natives.

OHA's 2010-2016 strategic plan distills the agency's diffused focus on numerous small initiatives that help individual Hawaiians into a broad, clear vision more suitable for a governing body. It streamlines the organization around three main objectives: advocacy for native Hawaiians, research and assets management.

Rather than being premature, this new approach—which aims for the deepest positive impact among the largest number of people—is the correct step whether or not the Akaka Bill becomes law this year, bringing with it the federal recognition that would allow Hawaiians to organize their own government within the existing U.S. and state ones.

The shift comes as OHA, like the rest of the state, suffers through the recession. The agency's $32 million operating budget—which comes from investment income, state funding and ceded land revenues—will be trimmed by about $500,000 a year, achieved by eliminating 28 of 178 jobs, including 16 vacant positions.

OHA administrator Clyde Namuo insists that budget stress did not inspire the new strategy, but is simply a reality factored into the path the agency has chosen to pursue as the best way to help the most native Hawaiians.

The plan focuses on improvement in six key areas: education, health, culture, governance, economic self-sufficiency and natural resources (land and water).

In education, for example, OHA researchers could investigate why native Hawaiian students as a whole tend to lag behind other ethnic groups in school achievement and use that data to improve policies, methods and curriculums at a variety of educational institutions, thereby helping the largest number of Hawaiian students, no matter where they go to school.

That's in contrast to OHA's current, more individual, approach. For example, last year the agency spent about $2.3 million on 2,000 Hawaiian children in charter schools—which works out to about $1,150 per child—when there are 65,000 Hawaiian students in regular public schools.

The agency, established by the Constitutional Convention in 1978, recognizes that it can maximize its impact by prioritizing its efforts.

The research-based, results-oriented approach de-emphasizes the personal lobbying that can end up with the most vociferous opponents or proponents of a particular program winning the day, whether or not their desires are best for the largest segment of the Hawaiian population.

The new strategy also reflects OHA's optimism that the Akaka Bill will pass, and puts the agency at the forefront in the creation of a native Hawaiian governing entity.