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VIRGIN ISLANDS, 1956
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 6, 1956
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
St. Croix, V.I. The subcommittee met, pursuant to recess, at 1:15 p. m., in the Government House, Christiansted, St. Croix, Hon. Leo W. O'Brien (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Mr. O'BRIEN. The hearing of the Subcommittee on Territorial and Insular Affairs of the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs will be in order.
I would like to make a very brief statement. I can say very sincerely that it is a pleasure to be on this beautiful island.
I also want to say that this committee, which happens to be completely bipartisan, has come to the island in that mood. We are here to listen and to help with all the means at our command. We do not have any preconceived ideas, our minds are open.
We have arranged in this particular hearing to hear opening statements by several gentlemen at the front of the room, after which we will operate under a sort of panel system. We will take up the organic act section by section, but we will not dwell upon it at such length as we did at St. Thomas because I assume that many sections of the organic act are satisfactory to everyone here, and we would only consume time if we went over them in such great detail, and we would have too much of a duplication in our own record.
I would like at this time to request the gentlemen I have mentioned to make their opening statements. I think we will start with Senator Hodge. Senator, do you want to come up with the other gentlemen, and while the members of the committee know most of you gentlemen, if you
would state, before making your talk, your full name and whom you represent, it would be very helpful to the record.
I would like to first mention the members of the committee and the staff who are here with us today.
At my left the distinguished gentleman is Congressman Wayne Aspinali, of Colorado, who is the second ranking majority member of the House Interior Committee and chairman of the Subcommittee on Irrigation and Reclamation.
On my right is Congressman E. Y. Berry, of South Dakota, who wishes that I would mention that he also is distinguished. He is one of the ranking Republican members of the full committee.
We have one member who will be with us very shortly, Dr. Miller, of Nebraska, who was chairman of the full committee in the 83d Congress and who is now the ranking Republican member of the committee. He will be with us shortly.
The gentleman at my immediate right was described at the St. Thomas hearing as not only handsome but smart to boot. The remark, I might say, was made by a young lady who was in the audience. Mr George Abbott, counsel to the House Interior Committee.
Also of our staff, Dr. Jack Taylor, who is our expert consultant on territorial affairs.
The gentleman operating the machinery there, Karl Veley, is the official reporter to the committee.
Mr. Ray Sherfy is a prominent representative of the Treasury Department of the United States.
I think I have covered the amenities, and now we will proceed, Senator Hodge, if you will.
STATEMENT OF WALTER I. M. HODGE, PRESIDENT, LEGISLATURE
OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
Mr. HODGE. Mr. Chairman, I do not think I need very much introduction to the members of this committee since I have known you all for many years. As you know, my name is Walter I. M. Hodge, and I am president of the Legislature of the Virgin Islands.
I have served in the senate for 10 years and prior to that time I served in the Army. I was very happy to serve my country in the Pacific during the war. I was happy to serve because I did and I do believe strongly in the democratic principles which our country professes. It is for the protection of these principles that we fought three wars. The alternative to our way of life would be dictatorship in one form or another. This we do not want whether we are Americans, living on the mainland, or here in the Virgin Islands.
Mr. Chairman, Virgin Islanders have a history of which they are proud. We here, through the ages, have been a kindly, law-abiding, and a peaceful people. Never in these islands has a case been reported of communism, nationalism, or subversive activity. Gentlemen, I wish to emphasize that not a single Virgin Islander has ever been accused of engaging in subversive activity. We are proud of this record. We love our islands, and we love our country. We are proud of our country, and we have given, mostly voluntarily, more than our proportionate share of men who have served in our armed services in wartime or in peace.
Gentlemen, what I am going to say is not given in any sense of bitterness or hatred. I give it without rancor or abuse. I am going to say what needs to be said with a sense of constructive criticism, because the situation has so sadly deteriorated here during the last few years. We in the Virgin Islands are at the crossroads. Something needs to be done, and it needs to be done soon, because the machinery of government has slowed down. What is happening here today, in my opinion, is neither the fault of Governors Alexander or Gordon. I believe that both would have done a creditable job if only they were given a free hand to do so. But absentee government cannot work here any more effectively than it can work elsewhere. Apparently the real government of the Virgin Islands has been moved from the islands to the Department of the Interior in Washington. This, I believe, is one of the major defects resulting not from the organic act but from the administration of the act, and this needs to be corrected, and it must be done immediately. It can be corrected administratively, because it is a result of a serious administrative blunder rather than of a mistake in the organic act. The Governor, who is given the real authority under the organic act exercises practically none of it. Gentlemen, let us read section 11 of the act, and you will agree that he is given all the authority that needs to be given to carry out effectively the functions of government.
The Congress intended it to be so, but a few officials of the Department of the Interior, pursuant to section 28, were able to get the Secretary of the Interior named as the President's designee, thereby depriving the Governor of all of the authority that is rightfully his. Gentlemen, in doing so the Interior Department has thwarted the intent of Congress and has relegated the Governor from an exalted position to that
of a glorified clerkship, one who would do the bidding of the Department.
I say that in view of the fact that Congress said in section 28 the President's designee shall administer the funds. I feel that since the organic act also says the Secretary of the Interior shall have the general supervision of the government of the Virgin Islands, it was not necessary that that Department be also named the President's designee.
Members of the committee, the Congress never intended for the Department to be the President's designee, for if that were the expressed wish of the Congress, the Congress would have stated specifically that the projects enumerated in section 28 must receive the prior approval of the Department. But the Congress never did so. We are, therefore, confronted with this situation : All projects must first be approved in advance by the Department of the Interior. The items so approved are then returned to the islands for action by the legislature and the Governor. They are then returned to Washington for final approval by the Department. This is a cumbersome and unworkable procedure. It has completely moved the government of the islands to Washington. I am sure that the Congress never intended for it to be so. It has created a great deal of chaos and confusion, and we find ourselves in a position where the executive authority which should have been in the office of the Governor is sharply divided between the office of the Governor and the Department of the Interior.
Mr. Chairman, just at that point I wish to add, shortly after the act was passed inany Members of the Congress know there was some jockeying between the Bureau of the Budget and the Department to be named the President's designee under section 28 of the act.
I wish to point out that this was brought about not by the action of the Governor, not by the action of the Congress, but through the administrative maneuvers of a few zealous individuals in Washington who wish to keep their fingers in a situation which is primarily a local one. In my opinion, gentlemen, that authority is rightfully the Governor's and it should be given back to him to handle as qiuckly as possible. The responsibility is his and since he is an appointee of the President of the United States that responsibility should not be divided between hini and the gentlemen in the Department of the Interior. This more than anything else has given rise to the difficulties that exist here on the islands and is the principal reason for the stalemate that has taken place.
Another of the difficulties which accounts for so much dissatisfaction here, and one which gives the Governor cause for so much concern and anxiety is the power usurped by the office of the comptroller. This unwarranted usurpation of power by the comptroller further diminishes the authority which is rightfully the Governor's. In setting up the office of the comptroller, the Congress, as I see it, was desirous and rightfully so, of having an office here in the islands responsible for the auditing of all of the islands' records and to see to it that the funds are properly expended. We agree wholeheartedly with this purpose. We are as anxious as the Congress is for the proper establishment of controls. We, too, wish to see to it that the funds are properly spent. But, instead of serving as a comptroller or auditor, the comptroller has set up an office exercising the power of a supergovernor, an office which not only controls and audits but makes policy and decides questions at the highest level, not only for the Governor, but for the Department of the Interior as well. Whereas the Congress intended for the comptroller to control only the expenditure of funds, we find, gentlemen, that no one here in government of the Virgin Islands can make a move without first clearing it through the office of the comptroller. No such power has been given to the comptroller in the organic act.
Now, again if it were the wish or the intent of Congress to set up a comptroller's office with such extraordinary powers which he now exercises, there seems to me there would be no need for setting up the office of the Governor. So here again we have a situation with the powers of the Governor dwindled away from the office of the Governor and being exercised by the comptroller who, by the way, spends most of his time in Washington and not here on the islands as he is supposed to do. We thus have a situation where the power of the executive is in the first place divided between the Governor and the Interior Department, and in the second place, between the Governor and the comptroller.
This has given rise to a great deal of friction on questions of policy and administration between the Governor, the comptroller, and the Department. And, since the comptroller spends so much of his time in Washington, the real executive authority for administering the islands is in Washington and not here in the islands as it should be. Again, gentlemen, absenteeism does not work.
The machinery of government has slowed down—almost to a standstill. The man who should exercise the powers vested in him by the Congress of the United States, the man who lives here with us, and is here with us most of the time, apparently has very little to say about the operation of government. The real power now is not in the Governor's office but in Washington, and it is there divided between the Department of the Interior and the comptroller. Such a situation is an intolerable one. It would not be tolerated for a moment in business and, gertlemen, it should not be permitted to continue here. How can Governor Gordon perform successfully when all of the responsibility is his but the authority to act and make decisions has been taken away from him and is exercised by a group of absenteesindividuals who have no knowledge of the islands, its people, and its problems.
This, gentlemen, brings me to the discussion of an elected governor. And I take a very bold view of this, Mr. Chairman. The situation now