Change is good – or is it?

June 2010 Ka Wai Ola Column

By: OHA Trustee Rowena Akana

Source: June 2010 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column

Sometimes, even the best of intentions can go amiss.  This past February through April, OHA underwent a massive reorganization.  The purpose of the restructuring was to make OHA better able to implement the recently passed 2010-2016 OHA Strategic Plan.  While I appreciate all of the hard work that our Administration put into reorganizing OHA, I have the following concerns:


Prior to the recent re-organization, OHA had a simple structure that was easy to understand.  The Board of Trustees set the policy for the Administrator and he would oversee the day-to-day operations of OHA.  He had two Deputies helping him, one in charge of beneficiary advocacy & empowerment and another for OHA operations.

Now, OHA has been split into three levels.  The top level is the Board of Trustees.  In the second level, the “Chief Executive Officer” (CEO) oversees the “Chief Operating Officer” (COO) with the help of the “Corporation Counsel” and the “Chief Knowledge Officer.”  The CEO also directly oversees OHA’s Nonprofit, Hi’ilei Aloha, LLC.  In the third level, the COO oversees four “Line of Business” managers that have direct control over their respective divisions.  They include:  (1) the Resource Management Director/Chief Fiscal Officer, (2) the Community Relations Director, (3) the Chief Advocate, and (4) the Research Director.

The new structure has made it difficult for Trustees and their staff to assist our beneficiaries.  For example, if someone calls my office and needs help with ceded land maps, do I call the “Chief Knowledge Officer” or the “Resource Management Director” or the “Research Director?”  The answer is the “Research Director.”  So now, what happens to the unwritten rule that “employees are not to consult with trustees?”


According to COO, the Administration is planning to conduct a large amount of research so that OHA can operate based on hard data.  Unfortunately, they also plan to contract much of this work to outside companies instead of doing it “in-house.”  Given the many expert managers and advocates that we have hired, such as the “Chief Knowledge Officer,” the question is — Why?  OHA is paying these new managers generously high salaries (compared to similar state employees) and I believe they should be doing more to earn it.  Trustee Machado’s concern that OHA may be too “top-heavy” at a recent meeting appears to be correct.  Also, Hawaiians have been studied to death on almost every subject, whether it’s culture, health, housing, history, land, legends, rights — you name it and there are studies and books full of data on it.  So why are we re-inventing the wheel?

(3) GRANTS: 

The Administration is currently revising the new guidelines for approving OHA grants, but there is no word yet on when it will be completed.  My concern is that the guidelines won’t be stringent enough to prevent abuses by certain trustees to “fast tracking” grants for favored nonprofit organizations.


Many of the new positions have ridiculous titles that seem to be either too vague or too broad and the staff members who will be responsible for completing the tasks have yet to be completely identified to the trustees.  We are a Hawaiian governmental agency formed to serve our Hawaiian and native Hawaiian beneficiaries.  We are not a private corporation.  I believe the titles of the new positions and divisions need to clearly reflect the tasks and duties they are charged with.  At present, they make no logical sense at all.  My fear is that we are creating layers of bureaucracy that in the end will not produce many benefits for our beneficiaries.  So is this change good?  We shall have to wait and see.

If you have a comment to share or if you have subjects that you would like to know more about, please send it to my office or write a letter to the editor of the Ka Wai Ola o OHA.  Aloha pumehana.