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Interior Department opposes bill to end Office of Special Trustee






The Obama administration opposes a bill to eliminate the Office of Special Trustee for American Indians, an official said on Thursday.

OST has gone without a leader for five and a half years. But getting rid of the agency will hinder trust reform efforts at the Interior Department, the administration said in testimony to the House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs.

"Why do we need a Special Trustee?" asked Rep. Don Young, the chairman of the subcommittee.

"What purpose is it serving if [no one] is there anymore?" added Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Oklahoma), a member of the Cherokee Nation. "Five and a half years seems like an awful long time."

The American Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act of 1994 created OST. The agency was designed to oversee trust reform efforts at DOI after numerous reports showed management failures.

After some slow starts during the Clinton administration, OST quickly grew in size, budget and scope during the Bush administration. Tribal leaders complained that the Bureau of Indian Affairs was being punished by the dramatic expansion.

H.R. 409, the Indian Trust Asset Reform Act, addresses those concerns by eliminating OST and transferring its functions back the BIA. It also elevates the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs position to the Under Secretary for Indian Affairs, an idea that tribes have supported.

At one point, the Obama administration said it would explore the "sunset" provisions of the 1994 Act and scale back OST's role. The agency's budget has been reduced since President Barack Obama took office in January 2009.

Obama, however, nominated Vince Logan, a member of the Osage Nation of Oklahoma, to serve as the Special Trustee. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee approved the nomination in December but the full Senate has yet to take action.

"I don't know if I'd ever heard them clamoring for that" position to be filled, observed David Mullon, the chief counsel for the National Congress of American Indians, said at the hearing.

Committee Notice:
Legislative Hearing on H.R. 409 and H.R. 4350 (May 7, 2014)

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