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Politics
Senate bill restores funding for Indian programs


Joining their counterparts in the House, Senate appropriators this week approved a $26.3 billion Interior budget bill that restores President Bush's cuts to Indian programs.

Back in February, White House reduced the Bureau of Indian Affairs by more than $100 million while boosting the Office of Special Trustee by nearly the same amount. Since then, lawmakers of both parties have rejected Bush's priorities as out of touch with the needs of Indian Country.

"We have circumstances on the reservation that are desperate," Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and vice chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said after the budget was released.

With that in mind, the Senate Appropriations Committee finalized its version of the Interior Department's 2006 budget bill on Tuesday. Initial numbers show increases in the BIA budget while the OST request has been pared down.

According to the committee, the BIA will be funded with $2.27 billion in 2006. While this figure is $26.3 million below the 2005 enacted level, it is $81.9 million higher than the White House request.

Of the BIA budget, the bill restores money to tribal colleges, tribal priority allocations and school replacement and improvement. Each of these programs had been cut by the Bush administration.

As for the OST, the committee stripped the White House's request by nearly $78 million to arrive at $226.1 million. The reduction limits the amount being spent on historical accounting projects for individual Indians and tribal governments.

The figures for the Indian Health Service are even more positive. The committee is seeking $3.224 billion for IHS, or $83.3 million above the 2005 enacted level. Increases include an additional $118.1 million for clinical services, $26.7 million for contract health care and $17.0 for facilities construction, which had been cut by $86 million by the White House.

The Senate version of the bill still needs to pass the full Senate before being reconciled with the one passed by the House last month. Like the Senate, the House restored money to the BIA, cut funds for the OST and added money to the IHS but there are some differences that will have to be worked out.

Regardless of the outcome, tribes will still fare better once the final version is passed. This is the third year in a row that Congress has beefed up Indian programs in what appears to be increasing frustration with the White House.

The frustration is shared by tribal leaders who say their views are being ignored by the executive branch. "They bring us in and we talk about the budget and really nothing happens," Ed Thomas, the president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska, said at a hearing last month.

That could change under provisions adopted by the House last month. The bill calls for a major overhaul in the way the BIA and the OST budgets are developed in hopes of ensuring that tribes are adequately consulted.

The goal, according to the report accompanying the House bill, is to provide "full transparency" for tribal priority allocation (TPA) funds that tribes use for their daily operations and to "clearly" show how funds for the central and regional offices of the BIA are being used.

To make the process more open, the BIA is being directed to create a comprehensive website that contains all the relevant budget information. OST, whose budget has exploded since the start of the Bush administration, would be included in the site as well.

Fiscal year 2006 starts in October. In the past two years, Congress has never passed a budget on time, leading to the development of huge "omnibus" bills that contain funding for hundreds of federal agencies, including the BIA.

The Senate Appropriations Committee reported the following highlights with regard to Indian programs:

Bureau of Indian Affairs - $2.27 billion ($26.3 million below FY05, $81.9 million over the budget request)
• Funds Tribally Controlled Community Colleges at a total of ($13 million over the request level)
• Restores cuts of $6.4 million to Welfare Assistance and $8.8 million to Johnson-O’Malley Education Grants
• Funds Law Enforcement at $189.9 million ($12.2 million over the enacted level)
• Funds Replacement School Construction at $58.5 million ($15 million over the request level), Education Facilities Improvement and Repair at $138.4 million ($10 million over the request), and creates a $10 million program to repair and rehabilitate existing Indian irrigation systems.

Office of the Special Trustee - $226.1 million
• Includes $34.5 million to reduce fractionation.
• Includes $58 million for historical accounting activities.

Indian Health Service - $3.224 billion ($83.3 million over FY05)
• Includes $118.1 million increase Clinical Services
• Includes $26.7 million increase for Contract Health Care
• Includes $17.0 million increase over the request for facilities construction

2006 Interior Appropriations Bill:
H.R.2361 | House Report 109-080

FY 2006 Funding Levels:
Subcommittee Reports FY06 Interior Appropriations Bill (May 4, 2005) | Appropriations Subcommittee Reports FY 2006 Interior Spending Bill (June 7, 2005)

Senate Indian Affairs Committee Letter:
FY 2006 Views and Estimates (February 28, 2005)

Budget Documents:
DOI Budget in Brief | Trust Responsibilities | Tribal Communities | Bureau of Indian Affairs | Departmental Offices [includes Office of Special Trustee] | DOI [from White House]