FROM THE ARCHIVE
Norton has budget hearing today
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APRIL 24, 2001

Secretary of Interior Gale Norton steps into the debate over President Bush's proposed budget and makes her first appearance before the Senate Subcommittee on Interior Appropriations today.

Chaired by Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) the subcommittee includes a number of Republicans who have praised Bush's budget for being fiscally responsible. Along with the President's proposed $1.6 trillion tax cut, Republicans like Pete Domenici (N.M.) and are eager to push the budget through Congress, provided they get their priorities approved.

But the subcommittee also includes Democrats who aren't terribly excited about Bush's fiscal year 2002 proposal nor the policies it pushes. Members Harry Reid (Nevada) and Diane Feinstein (Calif.) have been critical of Bush's cuts to environmental programs, a number of which are due at the Interior.

One of the contested cuts comes to endangered species protection at US Fish and Wildlife and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Norton's proposed budget reduces funding for species programs by some $10.2 million.

Norton has so far defended the cut by pushing Bush's proposal to put $450 million into the Land and Water Conservation Fund. She says says tribes and states can use the fund to develop their own species and wildlife protection programs "without Washington mandates or red tape."

At the same time, the administration has requested Congress approve a one-year, temporary easement in how it follows the Endangered Species Act. In response to time-consuming and mounting litigation, US Fish and Wildlife has imposed a moratorium on additions to its endangered and threatened species lists and Norton is pushing to relax deadlines so her department can catch up.

Litigation is also at the center of the debate over trust reform. One month ago, the subcommittee heard from Special Trustee Tom Slonaker and BIA Commissioner Sharon Blackwell who recounted the department's attempts to correct more than one hundreds of financial mismanagement as criticism mounted over reports that trust reform was "imploding."

But while Norton has pledged to make trust reform a top priority, she has come under considerable fire since taking helm. She has agreed to let Slonaker move forward with a costly statistical sampling project in an attempt to provide a basis for settling the government's five-year trust fund lawsuit.

Trust reform at the Interior will receive an estimated $165 million under Bush's budget. Funding is spread out between the Office of the Special Trustee and the BIA.

Less controversial is the President's pledge to fund Indian school construction projects. Subcommittee members Domenici, Campbell, and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), also members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, have praised the $292.5 million request for construction, up $514,000 from 2001.

Overall, Norton's proposed budget is $9.8 billion, a 4 percent cut from 2001. Scheduled to appear with Norton is Bob Lamb, acting Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget.

Domenici will chair the Senate-House conference who that will negotiate a compromise to the 2002 budget. Congress is expected to pass the required appropriations bills this fall. Fiscal year 2002 begins October 1.

Relevant Links:
Senate Subcommittee on Interior Appropriations - http://www.senate.gov/~appropriations/interior/index.htm

Related Stories:
Some BIA programs lose out (4/13)
BIA proposal includes slight increases (4/10)
BIA / OST Budget Overview (4/10)
BIA Budget: To cut or not to cut?(4/9)
Interior: Trust reform is working (3/22)
Bush cuts Interior budget (3/1)

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