Opinion

Mark Begich: Pay back tribes for overdue contract support costs





Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) calls on President Barack Obama to make back payments to tribes for contract support costs in self-determination agreements:
After Obama announced last November his readiness to work with Congress and tribes, all remaining barriers were removed. As the Washington Post recently reported, for the first time in history these contracts will now be paid in full.

This is important progress. Fully funding contracts to tribes means creating jobs and certainty in our communities. In my state of Alaska, six new facilities spanning across the state will now have the resources they need to bring hundreds of health professionals on board to provide critical services.

But the administration still needs to square up with tribes over past underpayments. According to certified agency reports from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service, the accumulated contract underpayments over the past two decades total more than $2 billion.

Yet only 1 percent of the claims have been resolved since the 2012 Supreme Court decision. Why? Because an army of government lawyers and hired accountants are now slow-walking these decade-old claims with new accounting tricks, new audits, new surveys, new methodologies and an overall divide-and-conquer strategy.

Tribes already are cutting back on services due to budget cuts, while still faced with the obligation of serving some of the most economically depressed communities in America. The last thing tribes need is more justice delayed from a government that already certified to Congress exactly how much it still owes.

Get the Story:
Sen. Mark Begich: Pay back Native Americans (The Hill 2/28)

Federal Register Notice:
Contract Support Costs (February 21, 2014)

Relevant Documents:
FY14 Omnibus Text & Joint Explanatory Statement | Detailed Omnibus Summary | Subcommittee Allocations

Supreme Court Decisions:
Salazar v. Ramah Navajo Chapter (June 18, 2012)
Cherokee Nation v. Leavitt:
Cherokee Nation v. Leavitt (March 1, 2005)

Related Stories:
BIA and IHS schedule consultation about contract support costs (02/21)
BIA and IHS agree to fully fund contract support costs for 2014 (2/18)
Budget bill urges solution to contract support cost battle (01/15)