Michael D. Weahkee, the "acting" director of the Indian Health Service, testifies before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., on September 13, 2017. Photo: SCIA
Health | National | Politics

Indian Health Service sends lower-level official to testify on outside audit bill

NOTE: The hearing time has been moved to 2:45pm Eastern on November 8, 2017.

The Indian Health Service remains without a permanent leader more than nine months into the Trump era, a void that continues to affect the new administration's agenda.

On October 6, President Donald Trump nominated Robert Weaver, a citizen of the Quapaw Tribe, to serve as the director of the beleaguered agency. He has yet to be confirmed by the Senate, leaving the IHS in the hands of an "acting" leader.

Yet even that official won't be testifying at a Congressional hearing on the Independent Outside Audit of the Indian Health Service Act. Instead, the new administration is sending a lower-level employee to appear before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on Wednesday.

The bill, S.465, requires an independent audit of the IHS to determine where improvements can be made in budget, staffing and management. The Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association, which represents tribes in one of the worst-performing regions of the agency, has long called for such an audit.

"The inadequate quality of health care in the Great Plains Region has resulted in actual genocide of our tribal members, who suffer from the highest diabetes death rates, the highest tuberculosis death rates, higher incidences of other diseases than mainstream America, and the lowest life expectancy among all IHS regions in the United States and mainstream America," the tribes said in an April 2016 resolution.

A legislative hearing is usually where the executive branch gets to make its case for or against a particular bill or initiative. But the leadership void at the IHS and other agencies has often put non-political officials on the hot seat even though they lack authority to make decisions or set policy on behalf of the Trump administration.

In addition to S.465, the committee will take testimony on S.1400, the Safeguarding Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act. The bipartisan bill, also known as the STOP Act, prohibits the export of sacred tribal property and increase penalties for those who engage in trafficking of tribal cultural patrimony.

The hearing takes place at 2:30pm Eastern on Wednesday in Room 628 of the Senate Dirksen Office Building. The full witness list follows:
Mr. John Tahsuda III
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, DC

Ms. Elizabeth A. Fowler
Deputy Director for Management Operations, Indian Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Rockville, MD

The Honorable Dave Flute
Chairman, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation, Agency Village, SD

The Honorable Kurt Riley
Governor, Pueblo of Acoma, Acoma, NM

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Notice:
Legislative Hearing to Receive Testimony on S. 1400 & S. 465 (November 8, 2017)

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