With the first ITARA rule, which becomes effective on July 26, out of the way, tribes are pushing Interior to implement other provisions of the new law. The most controversial is the possible elimination, or "sunset," of the OST. During the George W. Bush administration, OST's budget rapidly grew at the expense of the BIA's. Most tribes would like to see OST's resources transferred to the BIA, whose funding levels have remained stagnant in recent years. Two days before Trump took office, outgoing Secretary Sally Jewell said she was keeping OST intact. In a January 18 letter to Congress, she said getting rid of the agency would be "very difficult." It's possible that the new administration could take a different view. Another provision in ITARA requires Interior to submit a plan to Congress by June 2018 regarding the status of the OST. And Jewell's letter was silent on yet another provision in ITARA that allows Interior to create an "Under Secretary for Indian Affairs" position. Tribes and their advocates believe the post could lead to better coordination throughout the entire department, where the BIA is forced to compete for attention and authority among other agencies. "For tribes that deal with a lot of federal agencies within Interior, they don't always talk with each other regularly," attorney Brian Gunn, a citizen of the Colville Tribes, said at NCAI's meeting. "We've seen it in cases where an agency outside of BIA comes up with a regulation ... that negatively affects tribes or affects tribes in unintended ways." "By the time that the regulation has gotten up to the Secretary's office, many of the the decisions have already been made," Gunn added. He said the position would ensure the BIA gets a "fair shake" in these kinds of situations. Others echoed those thoughts and said the Under Secretary job could fit in with the Trump administration's ongoing reorganization at Interior. "We made some gains, and we want to continue those gains," said Gary Hayes, a former chairman of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.
The department has not said whether it will take a different course on the status of OST or whether it will establish the Under Secretary position. An initial report on the restructuring is expected in September, according to officials at Interior.
President Trump has yet to nominate someone to serve as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, which oversees the BIA. Secretary Zinke, during testimony on Capitol Hill on Thursday, promised it would be someone Indian Country likes."I think the tribes are going to be thrilled," Zinke told the House Committee on Natural Resources. Aides in the Senate, where the nominee for Assistant Secretary must be sent, have been told by the White House to expect an announcement this summer. An announcement on a director for the Indian Health Service is also expected this summer, possibly before the BIA position. Federal Register Notices:
Waiving Departmental Review of Appraisals and Valuations of Indian Property (June 26, 2017)
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