Hoeven Presses Panel for Greater Accountability and Oversight for Federal Indian Programs

May 17, 2017

WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, today convened a committee oversight hearing to examine the management of federal Indian health care, education and energy programs as reported by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

In February, the GAO added Indian programs to its 2017 biennial High-Risk List, citing inefficiency and dysfunction at the Department of the Interior’s Bureaus of Indian Affairs and Indian Education (BIA and BIE) and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Indian Health Service (IHS). Programs administered by these federal agencies were found to be vulnerable to mismanagement, fraud, waste and abuse. As of the February report, 39 of 41 GAO recommendations in these high-risk areas remained unimplemented.

“These important programs impact the safety of school buildings and facilities, the quality of health care and education, and the advancement of energy development in Indian Country,” Hoeven said. “Agencies should be ensuring Indian tribes and their members are thriving and prospering, not missing opportunities.”

Hoeven highlighted troubling cases of agency mismanagement, including the 2014 report that found one BIE school could not account for $1.7 million in federal funds. An investigation determined that the funds were illegally transferred to an offshore account in Indonesia.

In his testimony, Bureau of Indian Education Director Tony Dearman said that the BIE is “prioritizing GAO recommendations and addressing these issues head on,” although he agreed much work remains.  

Melissa Emrey-Arras, director of Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues for GAO, testified that severe weaknesses at BIA, BIE and HHS have put at risk the health and safety of Natives served by these programs. She emphasized the need for continued congressional oversight to ensure agencies are meeting their responsibilities to tribes and tribal members.

“In order for these areas to be removed from our High-Risk List, Interior and HHS need to show improvement on five key elements: leadership commitment, capacity, action plan, monitoring, and demonstrated progress,” Emrey-Arras stated.

The hearing also featured testimony from Mr. Michael S. Black, acting assistant secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior, and Rear Admiral Chris Buchanan, acting director of the Indian Health Service at the Department of Health and Human Services.

For more information on their testimonies click here.