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Secretary Zinke testimony overshadowed by Trump's FBI controversy





Secretary Ryan Zinke, the new leader of the Department of the Interior, is barely making his second appearance on Capitol Hill this week but not many will be paying attention.

That's because Zinke's testimony takes place at the same time as a more high-profile affair. Just a few buildings away in the nation's capital, James Comey, the former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, will be discussing his dealings with the man who fired him last month -- President Donald Trump.

But Zinke isn't the only Cabinet official being overshadowed as Washington fixates itself on the president. Ben Carson, the new leader of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, will be talking about his budget at the same time as the Comey hearing.

The drama means Indian Country's interests are once again playing second fiddle to the FBI controversy. When Trump fired Comey last month, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs was forced to cancel a previously-scheduled legislative hearing and postpone a business meeting as Republicans and Democrats fought over the fallout.

But when it comes to funding for tribal programs, lawmakers of both parties are surprisingly in agreement. They say Trump's fiscal year 2018 budget request shortchanges the first Americans and makes it harder for the federal government to fulfill its trust and treaty responsibilities.

"We all know it takes money to hire and retain good people," Rep. Ken Calvert (R-California), a key member of the House Committee on Appropriations, said at a May 24 hearing that focused on "high risk" programs that serve tribal citizens.

But, he added, the programs are "challenged by both poor management and limited funding," a situation that leaves Indian Country behind.

The Trump team, though, seems to think the Bureau of Indian Affairs doesn't need money to catch up. His budget includes more than $300 million in cuts to education, law enforcement, self-determination and other key programs at the agency, which falls under Zinke's authority.

A similar picture is seen over at HUD. Trump wants to cut $50 million from the Indian Housing Block Grant Program -- a program he has incorrectly suggested is unconstitutional because it's somehow based on "race" -- and isn't seeking any money at all for the Indian Loan Guarantee Program, popularly known as Section 184.

Zinke will be explaining the request before the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies. The panel is chaired by Calvert, who has worked with Democrats in the past to protect most Indian programs from deep cuts.

As for Carson, he's appearing before the Subcommitee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies.

U.S. Congressional Committee Hearing Notices:
Department of the Interior - Budget Hearing (June 8, 2017)
Department of Housing and Urban Development - Budget Hearing (June 8, 2017)
Open Hearing: Former Director James Comey, FBI (June 8, 2017)

Department of the Interior Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Documents:
Budget in Brief |Indian Affairs Highlights | Department Office Highlights [includes Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians]

Department of Housing and Urban Development Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Documents:
Congressional Justifications | Native American Housing Block Grants | Indian Housing Loan Guarantee Fund (Section 184)

Related Stories:
Budget document details cuts slated for Bureau of Indian Affairs (May 5, 2017)
Secretary Zinke slated for hearing on Interior Department budget (May 5, 2017)