DODEA cancels Pacific journalism conference, other events up in air
Stars and Stripes
TORII STATION, Okinawa — The budget impasse has forced Department of Defense Education Activity in Japan to postpone its annual Far East Journalism conference, and other theater-wide activities are in peril.
The journalism conference, which brings students and teachers from as far away as Guam to Tokyo each year, had been scheduled for Oct. 21-24 at Tokyo’s New Sanno Hotel.
“This was a very difficult decision,” DODDS Pacific’s new director, Dr. Linda L. Curtis, said in an e-mail sent out Friday, a copy of which was obtained by Stars and Stripes.
“Although our Far East events are considered ‘excepted’ student activities during the shutdown, we do not have available funds or authority to incur expenses that require (Fiscal Year 2014) funding such as contracts and air travel” for students, teachers and coaches to attend the events, the e-mail stated.
“There’s no money right now. If Congress reaches a consensus and the FY 14 appropriation happens the next few days … these events might still happen. We’ll proceed with planning and hope the money comes.”
But, DODEA might be forced to postpone other events if a budget’s not passed, DODDS-Pacific spokesman Charly Hoff said.
So far, the shutdown has not affected any activities in Europe, said DODDS-Europe spokesman Bob Purtiman.
“Right now, we haven’t had to do that,” Purtiman said. “That doesn’t mean that tomorrow something may happen.”
It’s unclear how the shutdown could affect other events. Many sports teams, especially in the Pacific, rely on air travel to get to and from games.
At the end of the sports seasons, the teams are brought together in one venue to compete in theater-wide championships. This year, DODDS has scheduled end of season sports events in Europe and Pacific for the first two weeks in November.
In 1986, those tournaments were canceled following the passage of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget act, which required DODDS to make more than $10 million in cuts.
Earlier this week, DODDS-Pacific officials told Stars and Stripes that the school system would proceed, business as usual, with school and activities. But Hoff said new guidance came in from the Department of Defense on how to manage Fiscal 2014 requirements during the shutdown.
As a result, the journalism conference was called off Friday.
Rescheduling the conference could be “impossible” because rooms at the Sanno are hard to come by most of the year, Hoff said. “You have to arrange those facilities sometimes a year in advance,” he said.
“We’re committed to looking for an opportunity to reschedule it later in the school year if possible, once the shutdown is over. Anything is possible. We don’t want to mislead anybody about the circumstances and the situation we’re in,” Hoff said.
Travel for local athletic events involving buses is safe for now, since most of the funding for buses was paid with Fiscal Year 2013 funds, Hoff said.
Coaches, athletes and teachers who spoke to Stars and Stripes expressed disappointment with the latest news.
One of the journalism conference organizers, Richard Rodgers of Zama American Middle School, said that leadership in Washington “has completely failed us.”
“Shocking,” said Matthew C. Perry High School senior Gaku Lange, who’d planned to return to Far East Journalism a third time and also to the Far East tennis tournament next month on Okinawa. “It’s understandable in the current situation, but it’s always been a constant. To find out it’s been postponed, is very disappointing.”
Others said they’d come to terms with the news.
“The budget drives everything,” said Tom McKinney, who coaches defending Far East D-I cross-country champion Kadena.
Should Far East tournaments be postponed or canceled, “we’d adjust, and have to say what could have been,” McKinney said. “We knew that going in.”
Hoff said he was sympathetic with the views of students and coaches.
“We’re kid advocates,” he said. “We want to continue providing as good an experience as possible. But we have to comply with the law. We’re limited in what we can do right now. We have to adapt and make the best of the situation.”
Stars and Stripes reporter Matt Millham contributed to this report.