WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven (R-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, today convened a committee oversight hearing to evaluate progress made by the Indian Health Service, Bureau of Indian Education and Bureau of Indian Affairs in improving critical tribal health care, education and energy programs.
“These federal programs are vitally important to Native American communities,” said Hoeven. “They affect the safety of school buildings, the quality of health care and education, and the advancement of Indian energy development. There has been some progress from the Bureau of Indian Education and the Indian Health Service in closing Government Accountability Office recommendations and improving services. However, over the past year, we have seen very little progress in improving Indian energy…Our past hearings, as well as the GAO report, have confirmed that the Indian energy program at Interior has cost tribes millions of dollars in delayed or missed opportunities for economic development.”
In 2017, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) added federal Indian health, education and energy programs to their list of programs in need of serious reform. Hoeven held two previous oversight hearings, in May and September of last year, to examine efforts to address GAO recommendations.
The series of three oversight hearings dovetails with Hoeven’s work to facilitate comprehensive reforms for Indian energy and health care programs. The senator’s Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act of 2017 (S. 245), which cleared the Senate in November, would cut costly red tape and streamline tribal energy development. Hoeven has also championed the Restoring Accountability in the Indian Health Service Act of 2017 (S. 1250), legislation to increase agency oversight and improve patient care standards at the Indian Health Service.
For witness testimony and hearing video click here.
Senator Hoeven’s full remarks:
“Just over a year ago, the committee began examining the Government Accountability Office’s high risk list. For the first time, three federal Indian programs—Indian energy, education, and health care—were included on this list due to their vulnerability to mismanagement, waste, fraud and abuse.
“These federal programs are vitally important to Native American communities. They affect the safety of school buildings, the quality of health care and education, and the advancement of Indian energy development.
“This is the committee’s third hearing focused on evaluating efforts to address GAO recommendations for tribal health, education and energy programs. Based on recent information from the agencies, there has been some progress from the Bureau of Indian Education and the Indian Health Service in closing recommendations and improving services.
“However, over the past year, we have seen very little progress in improving Indian energy. Only one out of fourteen GAO recommendations have been addressed by the Department of the Interior regarding Indian Energy development.
“The Department of the Interior is supposed to facilitate tribal resource development. However, for many tribes, the agency has only delayed such activity. Our past hearings, as well as the GAO report, have confirmed that the Indian energy program at Interior has cost tribes millions of dollars in delayed or missed opportunities for economic development.
“In my home state of North Dakota, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, also known as the Three Affiliated tribes, has been an industry leader in oil exports. In fact, if the Three Affiliated Tribes were their own state, they would by the seventh leading oil exporter in the United States.
“It is of critical importance that the trustee does not inhibit or prevent tribes, such as the Three Affiliated Tribes, from engaging in activities that promote economic development in Indian Country.
“Many tribes have invested in energy development. These tribes have communicated to this committee their disappointment with the prioritization of energy development at the Department of the Interior. Some tribal leaders have even suggested moving the Indian energy portfolio from the Department of the Interior into the Department of Energy.
“Because of this feedback, this Congress I introduced S.245, the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act of 2017, along with Senators Barrasso, Enzi, Gardner, Heitkamp, Lankford, McCain, and Moran.
“This bill was developed in consultation with energy producing Indian tribes to correct burdensome agency regulations. Most notably, the bill directs the Department of the Interior to provide Indian tribes with technical assistance in planning their energy resource development programs, cuts red tape and makes it easier for Indian tribes to develop their own resources, and streamlines the process for approving Tribal Energy Resource Agreements.
“Once again, Congress must step in to ensure that the agency prioritizes and corrects critical and failing programs. Moving forward, we will continue to work to ensure the Department is giving the appropriate attention to these matters.”
“I want to welcome all the witnesses today and I look forward to hearing about the work that is being done to turn around these programs. Additionally, I look forward to discussing the GAO recommendations that have been closed, and a specific timeline for closing outstanding recommendations.”