Mismanagement of the Midway Islands by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)


The International Midway Memorial Foundation (IMMF) was created as a non-profit tax-exempt organization in the state of Maryland in 1992 to preserve the memory of the Battle of Midway. To that end, the Foundation encouraged Congress to pass legislation that designated the Midway Islands as a National Memorial in 1999 and erected a marble and granite monument on Midway in 1995 and on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy in 1996. Vice Admiral William D. Houser, USN (now deceased) and I initiated the First Annual Midway Night Dinner in the Army and Navy Club in Washington, D.C. in 1997 and in following years at the Navy Museum in the Washington Navy Yard.

The Battle of Midway stands as one of the top five naval battles in world history among Trafalgar, Salamis, Jutland and Marathon. The battle represents the virtue, courage and bravery of the American character. Its significance lies in the fact that the battle was the turning point of the war in the Pacific and now more historians believe that it was the turning point of World War II in its entirety.


The U.S. Navy turned over the jurisdiction of the Midway Islands to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in 1996. At that time, Midway Phoenix Corporation (MPC), a private company, signed a cooperative agreement with the USFWS to operate the infrastructure and a public visitation program. MPC ran these operations at minimal tax-payer expense and invested 15 million dollars of its own money in Midway’s infrastructure. Draconian measures and restrictions placed by the USFWS on MPC impeded public visitation and led to the corporation leaving Midway in 2002. USFWS requested their own feasibility study on public visitation in 2005 which recommended that the private sector operate the public visitation program on Midway. Since 2002, the USFWS has permitted, at best, limited public visitation to Midway and in November 2012 completely closed the Midway Islands to public visitation. The changes in the infrastructure of Midway since MPC left in 2002 can be seen in this video.

In addition, the USFWS did not adhere to the law passed in 1999 which directed the Secretary of Interior to consult with the IMMF on a regular basis on the National Memorial until this past year. The IMMF, with the assistance of Congressmen John Duncan (TN) and Dr. John Fleming (LA), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs were able to hold a Congressional Hearing on November 20, 2014 entitled “Is the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge Being Properly Managed?” At the conclusion of the hearing Dr. Fleming declared, “It was a mistake to make the Midway Islands a Wildlife Refuge.” A video of the entire hearing can be seen here.

The hearing was followed by the Government Accounting Office’s (GAO) investigation of the USFWS’ management of Midway which was completed in May 2016. The report stated the budget data prior to 2009 was destroyed because of the USFWS’ document retention policy. The budget data from 2009 to 2015 was of undetermined reliability for purposes of their report. The GAO also pointed out that seven historic properties were demolished --- decisions that were made under the policy of ‘”demolition by neglect” (a policy under which the USFWS neglects historic structures by not providing maintenance and demolishes the structure because it has deteriorated). These buildings included four of the five historic cable buildings used to lay down the trans-Pacific telegraph cable in 1903, two Marine Barracks and the SKI warehouse. The USFWS failed to notify key parties who had expressed interest in historic preservation issues on Midway. The International Midway Foundation was footnoted as one of the four key stakeholder groups who had participated in the public visitation programs to Midway in the past and was interviewed and consulted by the GAO for its report.

The GAO did not address the issue of USFWS’s policy of “demolition by neglect,” the role of the private sector in Midway’s operations and that its inclusion is paramount to Midway’s financial success as exemplified by MPC. In addition, the role of the sale of aviation fuel to Midway’s financial viability was not mentioned. Midway’s two large fuel tanks, holding a combined four million gallons, has been destroyed by the USFWS and replaced by much smaller tanks with a capacity of 450,000 gallons of fuel. As a result, “the USFWS has suspended the sale of aviation fuel except in emergency circumstances. The GAO report did not directly address the USFWS’ failure to comply with the 1999 law (Section 126 of the 1999 Omnibus Bill) that the Secretary shall consult on a regular basis with such organizations including the International Midway Memorial Foundation on the management of the National Memorial”. You can find the GAO Report here.

In summary, the GAO report failed to adequately address the fundamental issue involving USFWS’ management of the Midway Atoll. One of the obvious solutions to the many financial and operational difficulties facing Midway, including the closure of the Atoll to public visitation, is to restore the private sector as the entity responsible for Midway’s infrastructure and public visitation programs without the draconian measures imposed upon the private sector by the USFWS. Thus, the USFWS’s total jurisdiction over Midway must be altered.


The Board of Governors

  1. The intent of the bill is to eliminate the abuses that USFWS has perpetrated on Midway’s historic structures and buildings by removing USFWS’ total jurisdiction over the Midway Islands with the creation of a Board of Governors. Authority over Midway would be determined by the board which would consist of the National Park Service, U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the International Midway Memorial Foundation. “The private sector entity” shall attend all of the board’s meetings but will have no voting power.
  2. The name of the board shall be called the Midway Islands Governing Board.
  3. The Chairman of the Board shall serve annually and each member of the board shall serve annually in consecutive order among the remaining board members.
  4. An annual report from all of the board members shall be presented by the Chairman of the Board to the Chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources in the House and to the Chairman of the Committee of Energy and Natural Resources in the Senate.

Private Sector

  1. “The private sector entity” is essential to the financial viability of the Midway Islands. As stated previously, the USFWS’ feasibility study conducted in 2005 confirms this assertion.
  2. Public visitation shall be restored and maintained through the years.
  3. “The private sector entity” shall be selected by the Board of Governors which is best qualified and able to operate Midway’s infrastructure and public visitation program.
  4. “The private sector entity” shall not be responsible for restoring all the infrastructure necessary for public visitation that was destroyed by the USFWS .These structures and building shall be restored by USFWS whose neglect is responsible for the loss and deterioration of these buildings and structures. This restoration includes replacement of the two large fuel tanks demolished by the USFWS which are essential for the sale of aviation fuel necessary for Midway’s financial viability.

Public Visitation

The Midway Islands shall be open to public visitation and operated by the private sector under the supervision of the Board of Governors.

Midway Airstrip on Sand Island

The airstrip on Sand Island shall remain as an alternate emergency landing site for mid-Pacific flights under the supervision of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Wildlife on Midway

USFWS shall continue to manage the wildlife on Midway.


The model for the bill is based on legislation that was passed by Congress to save and preserve the Presidio in San Francisco that was passed in 1996. This bill created a policy of joint jurisdiction over the Presidio with the private sector having 85% of the land under its jurisdiction and the National Park Service having 15% of the land along the coast under its jurisdiction. Since 2012, the Presidio is on a sound financial footing.

Written By:

James M. Dangelo

Chairman and Founder, IMMF

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