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Campbell warns BIA's Anderson of 'Washington' attitude
Thursday, May 13, 2004

There were no hard feelings on Wednesday as assistant secretary Dave Anderson finally testified before a Senate committee he was earlier accused of avoiding.

Anderson joined the Bush administration in February and has spent most of his time since then on the road, visiting Bureau of Indian Affairs schools and meeting with tribal leaders. The busy schedule left little room for another rather important component of his job -- appearing before Congress.

In this case, it was the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, whose members had quickly endorsed Anderson's nomination way back in October. But Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colorado), the committee's chairman, became somewhat miffed when the new head of the BIA didn't show up for some critical hearings.

"He seems to have taken a hike on us. He's just not around most of the time when he should be," Campbell said last month.

Anderson finally got to account for his whereabouts yesterday. Before the hearing started, he informed Campbell of his Indian Country road trips.

That gave Campbell, who is retiring this year after a storied career in both the House and Senate, a perfect opportunity to quiz Anderson on just exactly what he's been doing for the past three months.

How many tribes have you met, Campbell asked? Oh, about 25, Anderson replied after asking a staff member for a little assistance.

And what have you learned, Campbell wanted to know? Tribes are very concerned about law enforcement and substance abuse, Anderson responded.

At first, the queries appeared to have little relation to the subject of the hearing -- a bill Campbell is sponsoring to expand the successful self-governance program to include more programs.

But as the hearing moved on, it was clear the answers weren't exactly the ones Campbell wanted to hear. To him, they were indicative of the lukewarm reception the Interior Department has given to his proposals, which have significant tribal support.

"As I just go over in my own mind all the bills that we've dealt with to try and help Indian people ... I can't remember a single one, frankly, that the administration -- anybody's administration over the last 12 years I've been here -- has put forth," he said. "Most of the good bills that have come up and gone through the committee have come from Indian people."

"In some cases, we've had to drag along the administration kicking and screaming, when I thought we were all supposed to be in this together," he added. Federal agencies are more concerned about "turf protection" than helping Indian Country, he said.

Campbell also expressed concern that Anderson's "can do" attitude -- which convinced many a senator of his credentials -- wasn't taking ahold.

"When I helped you with your confirmation, I was very impressed with what I thought was [your] real belief in trying to make sure Indian people get a fair shake out of this government," he told Anderson.

Campbell's sentiments prompted Anderson to recite more of that "can do" attitude that has inspired Indian students across the nation. "When I came on board, I came on board with the spirit of heart that I could make a difference," Anderson said.

But it hasn't been exactly smooth sailing, Anderson admitted, without directly mentioning the heat he is taking for removing himself from some of his critical duties. "I will tell you that this has been a real awakening for me," he told Campbell.

Anderson said he into office thinking he would do everything different and make some important changes. But "when you get into it, you find that the bureaucracy is greater than you can imagine," he said.

"Mister Assistant Secretary, Welcome to Washington," Campbell added, with only just a hint of sarcasm.

Anderson had to leave the hearing due to a tight schedule later that day, so Campbell didn't get a chance to ask him about his controversial recusal decision. At the hearing last month, Campbell questioned why Anderson would remove himself from "about half of the responsibilities he was appointed to do."

Campbell said yesterday he still supported Anderson and that he hoped he would continue to seek positive change at the BIA. "I would hope after I'm gone that you're still here," he said.

Politicians from Connecticut who oppose the BIA on a number of fronts want Anderson to resign but he rejected the request last week. "It's an election year. They're entitled to their opinion," he said during commencement exercises at the United Tribes Technical College in North Dakota.

Related Stories:
Editorial: Dave Anderson should work 'full time' (5/11)
BIA's Anderson has Indian Country support (5/10)
Editorial: Anderson should not resign (5/7)
Dodd says Anderson recusal came out of nowhere (5/7)
BIA bashed over federal recognition decisions (5/6)
Dodd calls on Anderson to resign over broad recusal (5/6)
Anderson recused on all federal recognition matters (5/5)
BIA critical of main components of recognition bill (04/22)
Anderson takes message to Indian Country youth (2/18)
Anderson asks for prayers in new job as head of BIA (02/05)
'Famous' Dave Anderson confirmed to head BIA (12/11)
BIA nominee wins endorsement of Senate panel (10/23)
White House acts to fill top BIA leadership post (09/15)
Biography: BIA nominee 'Famous' Dave Anderson (09/15)
Lack of BIA nominee puzzles Indian Country (08/07)

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