Office of Insular Affairs

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Office of Insular Affairs
US Office of Insular Affairs Logo.jpg
Seal and Logo of the Office of Insular Affairs
Agency overview
Formed September 14, 1934
Preceding agencies
  • Office of Territorial Affairs
  • Division of Territories and Island Possessions
Jurisdiction United States federal government
Headquarters 1849 C Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20240
Employees 40 permanent
Annual budget $597 million (2015)
Agency executive
Parent agency Department of the Interior
Website Official website

The Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) is a unit of the United States Department of the Interior that oversees federal administration of several United States possessions. It is the successor to the Bureau of Insular Affairs of the War Department, which administered certain territories from 1902 to 1939, and the Office of Territorial Affairs (formerly the Division of Territories and Island Possessions and then the Office of Territories) in the Interior Department, which was responsible for certain territories from the 1930s to the 1990s. The word "insular" comes from the Latin word insula ("island").

Currently, the OIA has administrative responsibility for coordinating federal policy in the territories of American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and oversight of federal programs and funds in the freely associated Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau.

The OIA, led by Assistant Secretary of for Insular Areas Esther Kia'aina, also has jurisdiction of "excluded areas" of Palmyra Atoll[1] and "residual administration" of Wake Island.[2]

Relations between the United States and Puerto Rico are coordinated between the Office of the Deputy Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, not the OIA.


The office has evolved over the years along with changes in administration and in United States territories.

Prior to the 1930s, responsibility for administration of United States possessions was divided among several government departments. Alaska and Hawaii were under the Interior Department; Puerto Rico and the Philippine Islands were administered by the Bureau of Insular Affairs in the War Department; and the United States Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa were administered by the United States Department of the Navy.

Division of Territories and Island Possessions[edit]

In 1934, the Division of Territories and Island Possessions of the Interior Department was established and was immediately responsible for Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. The Division was subsequently given responsibility for the Philippines (independent in 1946), and after World War II, for the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. The Division also was responsible for administration of several islands claimed by the United States under the Guano Act, including Howland, Baker, and Jarvis Islands.

The first Director of Territories was Ernest Gruening, who served from 1934 to 1939, and later served as the territorial governor of Alaska and then as one of the first senators elected from Alaska upon statehood.

Office of Territories[edit]

In 1950, the Division's name was changed to the Office of Territories and the office's work was significantly reduced in 1952 after Puerto Rico attained commonwealth status and in 1959 Alaska and Hawaii were granted statehood.

Office of Territorial Affairs[edit]

In 1971, the Office of Territories was temporarily abolished and administration was coordinated by a Deputy Assistant Secretary for Territorial Affairs in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Land Management. In 1973, the agency was reconstituted as the Office of Territorial Affairs, which remained the designation until 1980, when an Office of Assistant Secretary for Territorial and International Affairs was created. (The designation "international" refers to what became the freely associated states of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Palau.)

Today, the Interior Department, through the Office of Insular Affairs, continues to be responsible for the outlying insular areas including American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

See also[edit]



  • National Archives and Records Administration (Richard S. Maxwell and Evans Walker, comps.), Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the Office of Territories, Preliminary Inventory No. 154 (1963).
  • Van Cleve, Ruth G. The Office of Territorial Affairs (Praeger Publishers 1974).

External links[edit]