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Bush initiative to be scrutinized by Congress
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 2003

Congressional appropriators plan to review a Bush administration proposal to eliminate dozens of Indian Health Service (IHS) jobs and relocate more than 200 employees.

The omnibus appropriations act approved last week includes language that requires Congressional approval before the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) implements several management initiatives. The provision was carried over from the Senate's version of the massive funding bill.

The bill doesn't restrict money for IHS, which is at a record $2.9 billion. But it impacts whether or not future spending will be affected by what is known as the "One-HHS" proposal.

First outlined in the 2003 budget, the initiative targets four areas for consolidation: public and legislative affairs; information technology; facilities construction; and human resources (HR), which includes the Equal Opportunity Office. Some are slated to take place this year while the two that most impact Indian Country -- facilities and HR -- are scheduled for fiscal year 2004.

Dr. Charles Grim, the interim IHS director, said the effort will result in the elimination of about 36 human resource positions at the agency. The goal is to have one HR employee for every 82 employees.

"We have one of the better looking ratios in the department," he said in an interview. With about 15,000 employees, IHS is the second largest division at HHS.

No final decisions have been made regarding the affected employees, whom Grim said will be offered other jobs at the department. The 218 employees whose positions won't be cut are to be transferred to one office in suburban Washington, D.C., removing them from locations closest to the people they serve in Indian Country.

Indian health and tribal leaders have expressed concerns about the consolidation. Funding for new IHS clinics and hospitals, which has been reduced in the past two years, will come from the same pot as other HHS projects, leading to fears that Indian Country will not be a priority. They also say the IHS can't afford to lose any employees.

"Sixty percent [of operations] have already been downsized," said one. "To move it to the department doesn't bode well."

THe IHS is headquartered in Rockville, Maryland. But Grim said the HR staff will probably be relocated in Baltimore. Currently, the employees work in the field.

About 1.6 million American Indians and Alaska Natives are eligible for IHS services, according to agency figures.

Relevant Links:
Indian Health Service - http://www.ihs.gov
Department of Health and Human Services - http://www.hhs.gov

Related Stories:
Grim expects nomination as head of IHS (2/11)
IHS positions being eliminated (2/7)
'Austere' health care budget cited (2/5)
Thompson releases new IHS budget (2/4)
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Court rebuffs tribes on contract funding dispute (11/27)
Congress approves $750M for Indian diabetes (11/21)
Northern Plains tribes see high infant death rate (10/30)
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Bush appoints interim director of IHS (08/05)
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Report stresses importance of health insurance (5/22)
Poor Indian health blamed on federal failures (3/21)
IHS pressed to include tribes in reform efforts (02/28)
IHS budget cuts construction funds (2/12)

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