Federal government VIPs are heading to Alaska during congressional break

High-level federal officials are making moves around Alaska this week and next during a shorter-than-usual August Senate break.

Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan is hosting several military officials, touring with secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force. Other top Trump administration officials are in the state, including the head of the Federal Communications Commission, who is touring rural Alaska areas with internet and phone connectivity issues, and the U.S. surgeon general, talking to Alaskans about opioid addiction prevention and treatment.

The House of Representatives is taking its normal monthlong August recess. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, is traveling in the state, campaigning ahead of the Aug. 21 primary election.

But the Senate cut its recess short to complete as-yet-unfinished appropriations bills and confirm various Trump administration nominees. The senators are back in Alaska this week and some of next week, but will continue the legislative session in Washington, D.C., for the rest of the month. (Sullivan and a group of first-term senators lobbied for killing August recess. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski remains adamantly opposed to the idea; she says August recess is her best time to travel around the state and visit with constituents and the Senate should stay in session on Mondays and Fridays to complete its work.)

The visitors are spending some time with Alaska's congressional delegation and some on their own journeys.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr traveled to Unalaska on Tuesday. There, KUCB reported, he said he was surprised by the lack of mobile phone service. He heard from residents and business owners about the high costs and low quality of rural phone and internet services in Alaska.

Carr and Sullivan both attended a meeting with the Alaska Native Health Board in Anchorage on Wednesday. Carr also planned to visit Mat-Su, Utqiagvik, Wainwright and Dillingham.


U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams attended numerous meetings and events this week in the Mat-Su area and Anchorage to discuss Alaska efforts to manage opioid addiction and recovery. He spoke at the 2018 Alaska Prevention Summit and visited MyHouse Mat-Su Homeless Youth Center. Adams also toured the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, saw the Alaska Public Health Emergency Response and Management warehouse and Alaska Regional Hospital, and checked out the new Ernie Turner Center, a 16-bed in-patient drug treatment center near Eklutna Village, according to the surgeon general's active Twitter feed.

Murkowski met with Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Chris Wray in Anchorage, drawn here by concerns about crime, according to the senator's spokeswoman Karina Petersen. The senator also plans to meet with the commandant of the Coast Guard, Adm. Karl Schultz, in Southeast Alaska this week, Petersen said.

Sullivan has meetings planned with Secretary of the Army Mark Esper, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer and Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, according to spokesman Mike Anderson.

The three are visiting the state "to see how Alaska fits into the increased role this state would play in countering peer-threats from Russia and China," Anderson said in an email. After funding cuts to the military between 2010 and 2016, "Alaska's strategic location, its massive training areas, and its military friendly communities are attractive" for military growth, Anderson said. Sullivan is hoping to showcase that.

The Army and Air Force secretaries both visited Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson this week.

Wilson will meet with Sullivan on Friday to visit North Pole and Eielson Air Force Base. Spencer, the Navy secretary, will travel to Adak and Nome with Sullivan on Sunday and Monday.

The influx of federal officials will continue into next week, when Sullivan holds a new "wellness summit" to follow on to one the held two years ago to focus on the state's opioid epidemic. 

The new summit will be focused on the crime that comes along with widespread addiction issues. Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Jim Carroll will attend, along with Adm. Schultz and David Rybicki, deputy assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice in charge of the Criminal Division's Organized Crime and Gang Section.

Also attending are Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth, U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder, Alaska Commissioner of Public Safety Walt Monegan, Anchorage Police Chief Justin Doll, FBI Special Agent Jolene Goeden, Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jay Butler and local leaders from elsewhere in the state.

Anchorage Daily News Special Projects Editor Kyle Hopkins will present on a panel about crime in Anchorage.

Erica Martinson

Erica Martinson is a former reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Washington, D.C.