FROM THE ARCHIVE

Indian employees challenging DOI reorganization

Facebook Twitter Google+
TUESDAY, JUNE 3, 2003

A labor union representing thousands of Indian employees said on Monday it plans to file suit against the Bush administration to halt an ongoing reorganization at the Department of Interior.

The Indian Educators Federation intends to seek an injunction in federal court to stop changes underway at the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Office of Special Trustee (OST), representatives said. The union, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, serves approximately 7,000 employees at the two agencies and charges that the reorganization isn't in the best interests of Indian Country.

Union representatives reiterated that position at a meeting with Interior officials yesterday in Albuquerque. According to participants in the talks, the Bush administration plans on moving forward despite opposition from the employees.

"Basically, I've been instructed to streamroll," said Jim McDivitt, a deputy assistant secretary at BIA, according to one participant.

With nearly 90 percent of BIA and OST employees being of Indian heritage, one of the union's goals is to protect the Indian preference policy. Based on two internal memos, including one from the Interior's Office of the Solicitor, the union believes the department is moving to dismantle hiring and recruitment preferences for American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Currently, the BIA is subject to the policy, which dates to the 1930s and has been upheld by the Supreme Court. One of the few exceptions is the assistant secretary's office.

The OST, which was created by Congress in 1994, is not covered under the policy. However, functions that have been transferred to OST from BIA, such as the Office of Trust Funds Management, are supposed to retain their preference status, according to long-standing department policy.

As part of the reorganization, OST is beefing up its resources and will hire upwards of 100 people. But based on a May 5 memorandum drafted by Hugo Teufel II, an associate solicitor, American Indians and Alaska Natives will not receive preference. A June 2 memorandum from Dean Brinker, a human resources specialist at OST, informed the union of the decision.

Special trustee Ross Swimmer, who headed the BIA during the last three years of the Reagan administration, acknowledged the lack of preference at OST but said he would make hiring Indians a goal. "We are fully intending to recruit from Indian areas," he said in a recent interview. "We would love to be able to hire Indians whenever we can and we will pursue that as much as possible."

In addition to the union, tribal leaders are considering filing an injunction against the reorganization, citing a lack of consultation. The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) met in Washington, D.C., to discuss its next steps.

The threats of lawsuits come as the department is rolling out the reorganization. Starting today, in Albuquerque, BIA and OST employees will receive a "briefing" on the changes. Meetings are scheduled for each of the 12 BIA regions for the entire month.

Relevant Documents:
Assistant Solicitor Teufel Memo (May 5, 2003) | Brinker Memo (June 2, 2003)

Relevant Links:
Indian Educators Federation - http://ief-aft.org/default.asp
Office of Special Trustee - http://www.ost.doi.gov
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com

Related Stories:
Tribes stress unity on trust reform solutions (5/30)
Cobell welcomes a settlement to trust case (5/30)
Tribes gathering for trust reform discussion (5/29)
NCAI's Hall stands by trust reform testimony (5/28)
Reorganization: Meet the 'new' OST (5/28)
Tribes oppose OST expansion into Indian County (5/22)
Swimmer: Don't fear changes at Interior (5/22)
On trust, Swimmer turns to private sector (5/14)
Reorganization: Meet the 'new' BIA (04/30)
DOI begins second transition period on Indian affairs (04/29)
Bunker metality evident in trust reform fight (04/22)
At Interior, Indian affairs in a state of flux (02/11)
BIA agencies face new trust rating system (02/10)
Interior policy would hail end of Indian preference (11/20)