Tony Babauta isn't letting investigation keep him down
by Mindy Aguon
Guam - Former Department of the Interior assistant secretary of insular affairs Tony Babauta is on Guam. He resigned from his post last month in the midst of an Office of Inspector General probe into his activities while on the job. And the nation's capitol and the territory haven't seen the last of him yet.
"In my own mind, I consider it something I'm putting behind me," he told KUAM News. He says it's been a rough ride over the last several months, as he's been the subject of a federal probe into his travels and activities on the job. Back in October, Babauta says he learned of the investigation that was prompted by an anonymous tip. "It has you question and try to recollect all the decisions you've made and who you've spoken to and can something be interpreted as a conflict of interest," he stated.
In November he was placed on administrative leave as the IG conducted their investigation into his travel and awards. He says he was candid with the investigators who he sat with for about nine hours over three separate interviews. He admits the entire process caused him to second guess himself and the decisions he made but in the end, he is confident everything he did was above board and inline with the DOI's focus on building additional capacities within the islands.
He explained, "I'm comfortable with all the decisions I made as an assistant secretary. I'm comfortable with the process that was in place, and I'm comfortable with what we were trying to achieve."
While he wouldn't speak to the specifics of the IG questioning, he did say that much of the focus appeared to be on Babauta's activities on Guam, "Which is unfortunate," he noted, "because I think it stems from the fact that I am from Guam."
"They flat out asked me we heard that you're thinking about running for public office? Are the decisions you make as assistant secretary is that to benefit yourself politically? My response was if I do a good job as an assistant secretary, I get a political benefit from it, certainly. If I do a bad job, it reflects on me poorly. My interest, of course, is doing a good job. I gain politically from it, but more importantly we're doing a good job in trying to keep with our mission."
He chose to stay on during the course of the investigation but following the last set of interviews when IG representatives traveled to Guam and interviewed the governor and University of Guam president Dr. Robert Underwood, Babauta felt it was the right time to submit his resignation. "And as a political appointee, you never want to embarrass the administration, the president or the White House - and that's certainly something I didn't want to do," he said.
"I'm moving on."
He has signed on with Crane & Crane Consulting in Washington, DC, which handles business infrastructure and works with SNR Denton, the seventh-largest law firm in the United States.
But Guam hasn't seen the last of him yet - as he intends to return home to pursue future political aspirations. He said he aspires to become "the first person of Micronesian decent to be appointed by the president. There's a strong obligation, I think. I feel I owe it to come back home to offer myself up for people to decide whether I have certain characteristics of leadership or experience that the island could benefit from."
Whether he'll run for the Guam Legislature or the Washington delegate remains to be seen, as he speculated, "Certainly everything is on the table."
And while the IG may never reveal its findings, Babauta says he's been comforted by the overwhelming support from the local community. "I always thought that I had done a good job as assistant secretary," Babauta shared. "I had a great run and I'm proud of the work that my office carried out."
"And I'm really appreciative of my friends and family and leaders from around the islands that have expressed their support during my tenure."