OHA’s dual mission(s)

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Dan Ahuna, Vice Chair, Trustee, Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihauAccording to HRS Chapter 10, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs has two competing missions that work in opposition of each other. On one hand, OHA is responsible for fiscally managing the Native Hawaiian Trust Fund (NHTF) to ensure its future spending power is preserved and enhanced for use by our future beneficiary generations. On the other hand, we are expected to spend money in the present moment to better the conditions of our beneficiaries. This contradicting mission is not unique to OHA, as all of our Native Hawaiian Trust brothers and sisters must navigate this same fiscal balancing act. However, what sets OHA apart from the other Native Hawaiian Trusts is the expectation we carry as a state agency. Whereas, the other Native Hawaiian Trusts are private entities, OHA is a public entity, bound by many restrictions state agencies operate under.

This is where things get tricky. Other state departments and agencies are directly funded by tax revenues from the State, whereas OHA is not. Because state agencies are funded by tax revenue, they are encouraged to maximize the use of their financial resources to carry out their mission(s). It is a relatively simple linear calculation of tax revenues allotted to produce maximum social impact. In OHA’s case, our calculations are not linear. Nearly all our operational costs and programmatic costs come from the NHTF, which can be viewed as an independent source of capital for OHA to use. We are essentially a state agency that must fund itself in the fashion of a private entity through the NHTF, while ensuring the NHTF grows stronger and stronger for our future generations. No small task!

This has implications for how much money we can spend and how we can spend money in the present moment towards the betterment of the conditions of Native Hawaiians in relation to how much we expect the NHTF to grow annually for our keiki and our keiki’s keiki. Therefore, it is vital that in this non-linear space that OHA operates in, we must continually seek the point in between the spectrum of spending that is optimal for OHA to fulfill its dual mission. It is a socio-mathematical balancing act that needs to be constantly reassessed to ensure that OHA maintains a spending position that is optimal for helping our beneficiaries today while preserving the NHTF in perpetuity.

The Resource Management Committee is currently looking into how OHA can achieve maximum performance in its dual mission(s). As an initial step, we are in the process of reviewing and editing our package of fiscal policies that will allow us greater flexibility in how we deploy money into our communities, ensuring that it is aligned with our source of capital (NHTF) and our dual mission(s). Following this initial step, we will then be seeking out more efficient and effective ways to fund and invest in our communities so that there can be greater alignment between preserving and enhancing the NHTF and bettering the conditions of Native Hawaiians today. We look forward to keeping you all updated on our path towards excellence and we are excited about the where we are headed. ¢