indianz.com your internet resource indianz.com on facebook indianz.com on twitter indianz.com on Google+ indianz.com on soundcloud
phone: 202 630 8439
Fredericks Peebles & Morgan LLP
Advertise on Indianz.Com
Home > News > Headlines
Print   Subscribe
Mark Trahant: Indian programs gain 'high risk' label at worst time

Filed Under: Education | Health | Opinion | Politics
More on: bia, bie, congress, doi, gao, ihs, mark trahant
     
   

Cove Day School is a Bureau of Indian Education institution on the Navajo Nation. Photo: Tami A. Heilemann / U.S. Department of the Interior

Federal Indian programs labeled as ‘high risk,’ but real solutions need Congress
It’s impossible to defy gravity #NativePolicy
By Mark Trahant
Trahant Reports
TrahantReports.Com

Federal Indian programs have been added to the “high-risk” category by the Government Accountability Office. That designation could not come at a worse time.

The details. This is how the GAO defines its high risk identification: “The federal government is one of the world’s largest and most complex entities: about $3.9 trillion in outlays in fiscal year 2016 funded a broad array of programs and operations. GAO’s high-risk program identifies government operations with greater vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement or the need for transformation to address economy, efficiency, or effectiveness challenges.”

The GAO said it added federal Indian programs to its high risk category because “we have found numerous challenges facing Interior’s Bureau of Indian Education and Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Indian Health Service in administering education and health care services, which put the health and safety of American Indians served by these programs at risk. These challenges included poor conditions at BIE school facilities that endangered students, and inadequate oversight of health care that hindered IHS’s ability to ensure quality care to Indian communities. In addition, we have reported that BIA mismanages Indian energy resources held in trust and thereby limits opportunities for tribes and their members to use those resources to create economic benefits and improve the well-being of their communities.”

More from the GAO: “Congress recently noted, ‘through treaties, statutes, and historical relations with Indian tribes, the United States has undertaken a unique trust responsibility to protect and support Indian tribes and Indians.’ In light of this unique trust responsibility and concerns about the federal government ineffectively administering Indian education and health care programs and mismanaging Indian energy resources, we are adding these programs as a high-risk issue because they uniquely affect tribal nations and their members.”

The three agencies are lumped together as one in this report, yet the causes of what makes the agencies high risk are considerably different, requiring solutions that go well beyond what the agencies themselves can accomplish.


Government Accountability Office: High Risk List: Improving Federal Management of Programs that Serve Tribes and Their Members

So let’s break it down.

First: GAO complains that the BIA has a problem quickly approving energy projects. This is Congress’ favorite problem. Congress can’t wait to solve this one by making the approval process faster than filling your car with a tank of gas. But the solutions ahead will also have unintended consequences for the very notion of trust lands, tribal control of energy projects, and the challenge of global warming. What happens when a tribe says, “hell no!” to say, the Keystone XL pipeline? That is a policy question that this Congress has all but answered.

Next the GAO says the Bureau of Indian Education “improves how it manages Indian education … including that Indian Affairs develop a strategic plan for BIE that includes goals and performance measures for how its offices are fulfilling their responsibilities to provide BIE with support; revise Indian Affairs’ strategic workforce plan to ensure that BIA regional offices have an appropriate number of staff with the right skills to support BIE schools in their regions; and develop and implement decision-making procedures for BIE to improve accountability for BIE schools.”

My translation: Measure what works. Make better hires (with the right skills). And improve the decision-making process. Easy, right? Only hiring for BIE schools is easier said than done and the decision-making process is complicated by community priorities.

There is another problem at play: Conservative think-tanks have targeted BIE as operating “failing schools” and would replace them with a whacky scheme to create Education Savings Accounts. (Previous: Day One. Dramatic restructuring of government.) This whole notion is written by people who have no understanding of the geography of Indian Country or the makeup of the Native students. The BIE has unique challenges and there are many, many improvements that could be made. So adding to this discourse a GAO high-risk warning is, well, not helpful.

The third high-risk agency identified by the GAO is the Indian Health Service. The report says: “To help ensure that Indian people receive quality health care, the Secretary of HHS should direct the Director of IHS to take the following two actions: as part of implementing IHS’s quality framework, ensure that agency-wide standards for the quality of care provided in its federally operated facilities are developed and systematically monitor facility performance in meeting these standards over time; and develop contingency and succession plans for replacing key personnel, including area directors.”

My translation: Measure what works. Make better hires (with the right skills). And improve the decision-making process. Easy, right? Again, it’s not as if the IHS is not trying to hire people. The problem is funding and a hiring process that is both cumbersome and required by law.

What I don’t get is why the GAO doesn’t see that the IHS mission has changed dramatically. One part of the agency is a funding mechanism, directing resources to tribal, non-profit, and urban health care facilities. The report alludes to that fact with this recommendation: “To help ensure that timely primary care is available and accessible to Indians, IHS should: develop and communicate specific agency-wide standards for wait times in federally-operated facilities, and monitor patient wait times in federally-operated facilities and ensure that corrective actions are taken when standards are not met.”

The key phrase here is “federally-operated” because many of the tribal and nonprofit centers have solved this problem. GAO should have said this and focused on what works and why.

Another GAO recommendation about IHS might be the most tone deaf. It says, “we recommend that IHS realign current resources and personnel to increase capacity to deal with enrollment in Medicaid and the exchanges and prepare for increased billing to these payers.”

Clearing my throat here. Umm. Congress is going in exactly the opposite direction. The serious questions — the ones that Congress ought to be answering — are how much will it cost IHS when Medicaid is turned into a block grant? What replaces Medicaid expansion funding at the local unit level? And, will states even fund a federal health care delivery system?

The GAO report makes a big deal about IHS developing a fair method for how it spends money on purchased and referral care. What the report should have said is that Congress is to blame. The problem is not the architecture; it’s the funding. No federal agency. No state agency. Hell, no private medical system spends less than the Indian health system. The real problem here is that it’s impossible to defy gravity.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. To read more of his regular #NativeVote16 updates, follow trahantreports.com On Facebook: TrahantReports On Twitter: @TrahantReports


Copyright © Indianz.Com
More headlines...

Latest Headlines:

Tribes in for long haul as oil continues to flow through Dakota Access
Mark Trahant: Don't plan on getting sick if you're from Indian Country
Tiffany Midge: I shall joke as long as the grass grows and the rivers flow
Director of Office of Indian Energy deletes offensive Twitter account
States cheer decision on grizzly bears amid tribal concerns about hunts
Washington asks high court to overturn Yakama Nation treaty victory
New York Times editorial board reconsiders stance on racist trademarks
Colville Tribes remove council member a week before citizens go to polls
Marijuana firm promises big investments with help of ex-Seminole chair
Lumbee Tribe ordered to release voter list to opponents of chairman
National Indian Gaming Association chooses David Bean as vice chair
Eastern Cherokee citizen promoted to vice president of casino marketing
Tribes in Connecticut waiting on governor to sign bill for new casino
Secretary Zinke removes protections for grizzlies over tribal objections
Court sets final deadline for remaining payments from Cobell settlement
Mary Annette Pember: Indian Child Welfare Act strengthens our families
Peter d'Errico: Navajo authors offer fresh perspective on sovereignty
Native woman was jailed and forced to ride with assailant during trial
Ute Mountain Ute Tribe challenges new permit for uranium operation
Montana tribes get new member of Congress who pleaded to assault
Connecticut tribes welcome court decision favoring new casino law
Pueblo tribes dispute state's demand for $40M in gaming revenues
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe remains confident of approval of casino
Nooksack Tribe accepting slot tickets while casino remains closed
Key House committee under fire for moving slowly on tribal agenda
Tribes go it alone on climate change as Trump team shifts priorities
Bryan Newland: President Trump's budget threatens tribal treaties
Steve Russell: The GI Bill changed the United States for the better
Harold Monteau: Democrats lack proactive agenda, proactive strategy
St. Regis Mohawk Tribe orders 20 non-citizens to leave reservation
Wilton Rancheria accused of working too closely with city on casino
Witness list for hearing on bill to reform the Indian Health Service
Arne Vainio: What does the princess want to be when she grows up?
Doug George-Kanentiio: 'Spirit Game' brings Iroquois lacrosse to life
Cronkite News: Navajo activist vows fight against racist NFL mascot
Eric Hannel: Addressing the health care crisis among Native Americans
Bill for tribal regalia at graduation ceremonies advances in California
Ramapough Lunaape Nation wins reversal of ruling on prayer camp
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe still waits on casino ruling from Trump team
Another former leader of Winnebago Tribe pleads in gaming theft case
Supreme Court ruling poses hurdle for opponents of racist NFL mascot
Change the Mascot campaign responds to negative Supreme Court ruling
Secretary Zinke set for another hearing on Interior Department budget
Mark Trahant: Republicans write health reform bill behind closed doors
Jeff Grubbe: Agua Caliente Band focuses on protecting our groundwater
Steven Newcomb: Asserting our traditions in the era of Donald Trump
Shasta Dazen: 'Family Spirit' program incorporates our tribal traditions
Secretary Zinke shuffles top Indian Affairs officials at Interior Department
Choctaw Nation travels to Ireland to dedicate 'Kindred Spirits' sculpture
Nooksack Tribe closes doors to casino after being hit with federal order
Muscogee Nation asserts authority at allotment where casino was proposed
Mark Trahant: Dakota Access decision offers a chance to return to respect
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe hails 'victory' in Dakota Access Pipeline case
Nooksack Tribe told to close casino amid leadership and citizenship feud
Kristi Noem: Enough is enough - It's time to fix the Indian Health Service
Second hearing scheduled on bill to reform the Indian Health Service
Trump nominee for appeals court seen as favorable to tribal interests
>>> more headlines...

Home | Arts & Entertainment | Business | Canada | Cobell Lawsuit | Education | Environment | Federal Recognition | Federal Register | Forum | Health | Humor | Indian Gaming | Indian Trust | Jack Abramoff Scandal | Jobs & Notices | Law | National | News | Opinion | Politics | Sports | Technology | World

Indianz.Com Terms of Service | Indianz.Com Privacy Policy
About Indianz.Com | Advertise on Indianz.Com

Indianz.Com is a product of Noble Savage Media, LLC and Ho-Chunk, Inc.