Problems with Government Departments Meant to Help Native Americans

Friday, December 15, 2017

By WatchBlog, U.S. Government Accountability Office


For nearly a decade, we’ve reported that federal agencies have ineffectively administered Indian health care, education, and energy resource development programs. This year we added the agencies responsible for these programs to our High Risk List—which discuss the federal agencies and programs most vulnerable to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement.


Here we discuss federal administration of Indian health care services, education programs, and development of Indian energy resources.


Ensuring the health of American Indians


The life expectancy of American Indians born today is 4.4 years shorter than other Americans in the United States. What’s worse is that many of the conditions preceding these deaths—such as diabetes and the flu—could be prevented by timely access to quality health care.


The Indian Health Service is charged with providing health care services to tribes and their members—and does so either through government-operated hospitals and clinics, or by funding services provided in other facilities. However, we continue to find that IHS struggles to provide quality health care, due in part to inadequate oversight, insufficient workforce planning, and aging infrastructure and equipment.


For example, in 2016 we found that there were over 1,550 vacancies for health care professionals—doctors, nurses, dentists, and more—throughout the IHS health care system, affecting its ability to provide primary care to tribes and their members. The quality of health care was also hampered by outdated medical and telecommunications equipment, such as analog mammography machines and telephones with an insufficient number of lines for scheduling patient appointments.


Ensuring safe schools and high quality education for Native youth


The federal government invests over $1 billion annually in Bureau of Indian Education schools. Yet students enrolled in these schools lag behind American Indian students in public schools in reading and math, and only about 53% graduate from high school, according to the Bureau of Indian Education.


Why? We identified long-standing problems that have hampered efforts to improve BIE schools over the years. For example, in 2014 we reported that BIE lacked robust systems to ensure that its schools used federal funds to educate students. As a result, we found several instances of misused funds, including $1.7 million for one school that was improperly transferred to off-shore accounts.


In 2016, we also reported that deteriorating facilities and equipment led to unsafe conditions at BIE schools. At one school, we found seven boilers that failed inspection because of safety hazards, such as elevated levels of carbon monoxide. Though they endangered students, most of the boilers were not repaired until 8 months after inspection.


Energy resource development on American Indian lands


Some Indian tribes hold plentiful energy resources—such as oil and natural gas found in shale as well as wind and solar—and developing these resources could help them improve the economy and well-being of their communities. However, tribes face difficulties capitalizing on these resources due to, among other things, complicated regulations and federal mismanagement of resources held in trust.


Development of many of these resources requires approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Over the past 3 years, we have reported on long-running federal mismanagement of Indian energy resources. In 2015, we reported that BIA was short-staffed, and had weak oversight of its review and approval process associated with the development of energy resources—resulting in long approval times, missed opportunities, and lost revenue for tribes.


Additionally, in 2016, we found that multiple agencies were not following best practices for collaborating on initiatives to help Indian tribes achieve their energy goals.


As you might imagine, we’ve made dozens of recommendations over the years aimed at improving federal services to Indian tribes and their members. Check out our full list here, and learn more in this year’s High Risk List.


To Learn More:

Improving Federal Administration of Programs that Serve the American Indian Population (by WatchBlog, U.S. Government Accountability Office)

High Risk: Programs that Serve Tribes and their Members (Government Accountability Office – video)

U.S. Officials Cancel 15 Oil and Gas Leases of Montana Land Sacred to Native Tribes (by Matthew Brown, Associated Press)

Sioux Tribe Accuses Government of Underfunding Native American Health Care (by Lacey Louwagie, Courthouse News Service)

Native Americans’ Access to Health Care Difficult to Measure (by Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press)

Racial Group most likely to be Killed by Police? Native Americans (by Steve Straehley, AllGov)

Tribe that Gave Seattle its Name Denied Federal Recognition as a Tribe (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Pine Ridge Sioux Must Travel 27 Miles from Reservation to Vote (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman)

Judge Orders Compensation to Loyal Minnesota Sioux Tribe after 148 Years (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


paul r. jones 6 years ago
It never ceases to amaze me just how United States Constitution-stupid politicians-state and federal-are piled on top of how stupid their attorney’s are! As of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, there are no more "Indians" within the original meaning of the United States Constitution...only U.S./State citizens with "Indian ancestry/race" entitled to no more and no less than every other non-Indian U.S./State citizen in accordance with the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment’s ‘equal protection’ Clause! And, yet, faux Title 25-INDIANS and faux 'Indian treaties' whereby these attorneys and politicians-state and federal-assert the United State Constitution has provision whereby We, the People, have 'treaties' with Other We, the People, because of the "Other's" Indian ancestry/race and non-Indians believe this hoax. Worse yet are judges-state and federal-who woefully fail to uphold and defend the United States Constitution in their oath of office clearly articulated in CJ Marshall's Marbury decision posted below by accepting both sides attorney's petition there are "Indian Treaties" and "Indian reservations" where politicians-state and federal-continue to regulate from womb to tomb a select group of U.S./State citizens health, welfare, safety, benefits, capacities, metes and boundaries because of their "Indian ancestry/race" at the same time condemn "Jim Crow Laws" citing the United States Constitution's 14th Amendment for one....what hypocrites! The United States Constitution makes for no provisions for "Indian reservations!" Land commonly known as an "Indian reservation" with rare exception is land owned by the People of the United States according to a federal document readily available on-line where U.S./State citizens with "Indian ancestry/race" residing on said land are merely tenants with rights of 'use and occupancy' only! If I can find these federal documents on-line, why are high-powered politicians-state and federal-and their highly paid attorneys and judges-state and federal-too stupid to do the same? United States Supreme Court MARBURY v. MADISON, (1803) Argued: Decided: February 1, 1803: “If an act of the legislature, repugnant to the constitution, is void, does it, notwithstanding its invalidity, bind the courts and oblige them to give it effect? Or, in other words, though it be not law, does it constitute a rule as operative as if it was a law? This would be to overthrow in fact what was established in theory; and would seem, at first view, an absurdity too gross to be insisted on. It shall, however, receive a more attentive consideration. It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is. Those who apply the rule to particular cases, must of necessity expound and interpret that rule. If two laws conflict with each other, the courts must decide on the operation of each. [5 U.S. 137, 178] So if a law be in opposition to the constitution: if both the law and the constitution apply to a particular case, so that the court must either decide that case conformably to the law, disregarding the constitution; or conformably to the constitution, disregarding the law: the court must determine which of these conflicting rules governs the case. This is of the very essence of judicial duty. If then the courts are to regard the constitution; and the constitution is superior to any ordinary act of the legislature; the constitution, and not such ordinary act, must govern the case to which they both apply. Those then who controvert the principle that the constitution is to be considered, in court, as a paramount law, are reduced to the necessity of maintaining that courts must close their eyes on the constitution, and see only the law. This doctrine would subvert the very foundation of all written constitutions. It would declare that an act, which, according to the principles and theory of our government, is entirely void, is yet, in practice, completely obligatory. It would declare, that if the legislature shall do what is expressly forbidden, such act, notwithstanding the express prohibition, is in reality effectual. It would be giving to the legislature a practical and real omnipotence with the same breath which professes to restrict their powers within narrow limits. It is prescribing limits, and declaring that those limits may be passed at pleasure."

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