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Tribal leaders press for budget consultation policy
Thursday, April 15, 2004

Expressing growing concern over the Bush administration's budget plans, tribal leaders this week called for the adoption of broad consultation policy aimed at ensuring trust and treaty obligations are being met.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs tribal budget advisory council met over two days in the Washington, D.C., area to counteract a proposal to slash that agency's budget by nearly 6 percent in the next two years. Participants agreed to lobby for modest increases in fiscal years 2005 and 2006 instead of the $132 million reduction that Bush officials have outlined.

But the two dozen leaders who are part of the group also agreed to a policy that would require more direct consultation by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), where the budget request originates. A resolution passed by the advisory council seeks a new presidential executive order and other legislation to ensure tribal needs are considered early in the process and that tribes are treated on an equal basis with state and local governments.

The executive order should direct OMB to "consult with tribal governments of American Indians and Alaska Natives on a government-to-government basis prior to the submission of the budget for each fiscal year," the resolution states.

The resolution pushes for a tribal exemption to a controversial tool that OMB has been using since the start of the Bush administration. Known as the Program Assessment Rating Tool, or PART, poor rankings of BIA and other Indian programs have been linked to reduced funding.

As one example, the school construction and replacement program at the BIA was cut by by $69 million in 2005 after OMB gave it a "results not demonstrated" rating. OMB said school projects were taking too long to complete.

"OMB is all about results," Ed Parisian, director of BIA's education programs, later told Indian educators.

But the PART analysis isn't being used consistently, according to Tex Hall, president of the National Congress of American Indians and the co-chair of the budget council. Even though the BIA's forestry program received an "adequate" rating, one of the better ratings for the agency, it was cut in the 2005 budget, he said.

"At the very least we should be involved in how we are being rated," Hall said.

The PART system is not authorized by any specific act of Congress but fits in with performance-based laws authorized in recent years. OMB says the tool helps federal agencies comply with the Government Performance Review Act, also known as GPRA.

The problem with the system, according to tribal leaders, is that it doesn't take into account legal and other obligations to American Indians and Alaska Natives. Programs are evaluated without acknowledging the fiduciary trust relationship, the advisory council resolution states.

Several tribal leaders, including Hall and Ed Thomas, president of the Tlingit-Haida Tribal Council of Alaska, have met with OMB staff to discuss funding under the trust relationship. But they say the message is not getting across within the White House.

"The president's budget is really where the rubber hits the road," Thomas said at an NCAI conference in February.

Relevant Documents:
BIA/Tribal Budget Advisory Council Resolution (April 13, 2004) | Lynn Scarlett Memo (March 12, 2004) | Tribal Leaders Letter to President Bush (March 23, 2004)

PART Assesments for 2005:
Department of Interior | All Agencies

PART Assessments for 2004:
School Construction | School Operations | Tribal Land Consolidation

Relevant Links:
Program Assessment Rating Tool, White House OMB - http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/part

Related Stories:
Indian housing cuts targeted by tribal leaders (4/14)
Tribes tackle budget woes under Bush administration (4/13)
Budget resolution barely clears House vote (03/26)
Tribal leaders denounce BIA budget plans as reckless (03/24)
BIA education programs taking $79 million hit (3/23)
Indian educators meet for legislative summit (3/22)
Cuts run deep for tribal programs at BIA (03/09)
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)
NCAI president uses speech to lobby for funding (01/22)

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