Bush management initiative impacts IHS employees

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The Bush administration is moving to consolidate certain Indian Health Service (IHS) functions in order to cut costs and employees throughout Indian Country.

Dr. Charles Grim, the interim IHS director, said approximately 36 human resource positions will be eliminated. It is part of a department-wide push at Health and Human Services called "One-HHS."

Grim didn't have a target date for the action, which involves consolidation of 40 HHS offices into just four. "Right now we don't have enough final answers," he said in an interview, referring to a working group that has been fleshing out the proposal.

Grim and other officials said it was likely that personnel for IHS, whose headquarters are in Rockville, Maryland, will be serviced out of a new office in Baltimore. But they denied rumors in Indian Country that IHS employees are being laid off as a result of the initiative.

"One of the things the department is committed to in all these efforts is that nobody will lose a job," he said. "People who want to still have a position will have one. It may not be exactly where you are at. It may not be exactly the same thing that you are doing."

The "One-HHS" initiative was first outlined in the 2003 budget. It targeted four areas for consolidation: public and legislative affairs; information technology; facilities construction; and human resources (HR), which includes the Equal Opportunity Office.

The facilities and HR moves will have a significant impact on Indian Country. Funding for construction of new IHS clinics and hospitals, which has been cut in the past two years, will come from the same pot as other HHS projects.

With 15,000 employees, the IHS is the second largest division at HHS. These employees serve reservations, villages and urban communities as far apart as Alaska and Nashville. Under the consolidation proposal, approximately 180 HR employees, down from nearly 220, will be located in the Baltimore office.

Such a move will put the office "completely out of touch with the day-to-day realities and characteristics of IHS such as Indian preference, different budget sources, tribal shares, tribal sovereignty" and other unique concerns, according to a letter being circulated in Indian Country.

Separately, the IHS is reorganizing. After nearly a year of work, a tribal-federal task force has finalized its recommendations, which Grim and the IHS area directors are currently evaluating in house. Changes will be rolled out in the coming year, Grim said.

President Bush has requested $2.9 billion for the IHS. Budget budget predicted a $31 million "management savings" through "reductions" in administration and improvement of information technology resources.

Relevant Documents:
HHS Budget | HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson | HHS Budget [from OMB]

Relevant Links:
Indian Health Service -
Department of Health and Human Services -

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