cobelllandbuybackprogramfortribalnations
Tribal citizens participate in a listening session for the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on March 3, 2016. The Land Buy-Back Program was created by the $3.4 billion settlement to the Cobell trust fund lawsuit. The settlement set aside $1.9 billion to acquire fractionated interests from willing sellers in Indian Country. The interests are restored to tribal ownership. Photo: U.S. Department of the Interior
The Bureau of Indian Affairs Jeopardized Land Buy-Back Program Accomplishments by Delegating Land Title Authority
Friday, February 19, 2021
Source: Office of the Inspector General
U.S. Department of the Interior

REPORT: The Bureau of Indian Affairs Jeopardized Land Buy-Back Program Accomplishments by Delegating Land Title Authority

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the U.S. Department of the Interior evaluated the Department’s Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations in a report posted on February 19.

The OIG found that the Bureau of Indian Affairs violated Federal regulations by delegating land title authority to its Acquisition Center. The delegation of land title authority resulted in confusion about roles and responsibilities, allegations of title document defects, breakdown in communication between offices, and the potential for litigation.

In addition, the improper delegation of land title authority could result in claims that the Department breached its fiduciary trust responsibilities by mismanaging tribal trust funds and could potentially place all program actions at risk of being invalidated.

The offices involved in the Land Buy-Back Program have been working to address the land title authority and title document defect issues. On February 24, 2020, and May 22, 2020, the Bureau, in coordination with the Office of the Solicitor, updated two policies regarding the delegation of land title authority issues.

An Office of the Solicitor official told us that these policy changes resolved the issues and that no further policy changes were needed. On June 3, 2020, the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs signed a corrective action plan regarding the missing land title document identified by a 2019 document review project.

The OIG makes three recommendations to help the Department’s leadership ensure that program land acquisitions are legally defensible and to minimize risks that the Department will face liability. The Department responded to our draft report on September 10, 2020, and based on the response, the OIG considers Recommendations 1 and 2 resolved and implemented and Recommendation 3 resolved but not implemented.

Throughout the course of our review, we communicated our findings to the Department, and the Department took corrective actions to implement two of our recommendations before issuance of our draft report. The OIG will refer Recommendation 3 to the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget to track implementation.

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