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Cuts run deep for tribal programs at BIA
Tuesday, March 9, 2004

When White House aide Jennifer Farley spoke to tribal leaders recently, she sought to address a common complaint about the Bureau of Indian Affairs budget.

"BIA was not cut to fund Indian trust reform," Farley said.

The message wasn't received well, and not just because Farley was suffering from laryngitis that day. A review of the BIA's 2005 funding request shows numerous cuts to Indian programs on the reservation level to make up for a significant boost in trust reform.

"I am healthy and very passionate," Ed Thomas, president of the Tlingit-Haida Tribe of Alaska would tell new BIA head Dave Anderson later that day. "But I am not happy."

Anderson met with tribal leaders in Phoenix, Arizona, last week as part of an ongoing dialogue over future BIA budgets. But the concerns raised could have applied to the situation today.

"We can't talk rhetoric, but we need follow through from the BIA and the Department of Interior," Navajo Nation president Joe Shirley Jr. said at the meeting. "There are billions of dollars going off the United States. When is there going to be funding to meet Navajoland?"

Copies of the BIA's "green book" were distributed last week to tribal leaders. The document details, for the first time since the budget was announced last month, the reductions in the BIA's social service, education, welfare, tribal and other programs.

Overall, the budget seeks $2.25 billion for the BIA, a reduction of $52.0 million, or 2.3 percent. This is the first time since the mid-1980s that the agency serving more than 550 tribes and more than 1 million American Indians and Alaska Natives is seeing a cut.

Some of the more significant reductions occur in the tribal priority allocation (TPA) account. TPA funds are particularly important because they are used by tribes to carry out day-to-day government functions.

Under the TPA item, there is a $278,000 cut in human services, a $394,000 cut in education, a $334,000 cut in contract support costs, a $498,000 cut in forestry services, and a $748,000 cut in trust services. And while the overall TPA request is $4.9 million above the current level, it is offset by a nearly $11 million transfer to the Office of Special Trustee (OST) for appraisal services.

The slash in the human services account affects three major reservation-level programs: the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), welfare assistance and the housing improvement program (HIP). The green book contains no justification of why these programs are being cut.

The education cut is achieved by slashing scholarships for Indian students at post-secondary institutions. The reduction means tribes will only able to award 1,100 scholarships, down from 1,250 for the current year. The Bush administration has been reducing this item since taking office in 2001.

Despite receiving an "adequate" rating by the White House, one of the better ratings for the BIA, forestry services is the only natural resource program seeing a reduction in funds. The BIA, however, still says it will meet its goal of helping tribes harvest timber, manage forests and develop management plans.

The largest cut, though, comes to the construction account. In 2005, replacement of BIA schools, which are the worst in the nation, will be reduced by $61.0 million. Repair and improvement of other facilities will be cut by nearly $9 million.

Officials justify the drop by saying all the projects on the BIA's priority list have been funded through 2004. Anderson recently added 14 new schools to the list.

The BIA's losses contrast with the gains at OST, which Congress created in 1994 to oversee trust reform. But tribal leaders say OST is going beyond Congress' intent by implementing reform.

Based on OST's green book, the agency will receive $322.7 million next year, an increase of $113.7 million, or 54 percent. Other appropriations raise OST's budget to nearly $724 million, according to the justification.

In meetings with tribal leaders, administration officials say they understand the needs of Indian Country. But tribal leaders say the message isn't getting to the source.

"The president's budget is really where the rubber hits the road," said Thomas.

DOI FY2005 Budget:
Fiscal Year 2005 Budget in Brief | Unified Trust Budget | Serving Tribal Communities | BIA Highlights | Departmental Offices [for Office of Special Trustee]

Related Stories:
Senate panel shares criticism of Bush budget (02/12)
Tribal leaders pressing Congress on funding (02/11)
BIA programs barely survive White House test (02/10)
Fate of Indian preference in hands of Swimmer (02/04)
BIA budget staying the same under Bush request (2/3)

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