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Bush budget test inconsistent on Indian programs

Accountability and performance have been a cornerstone of the Bush administration's budget proposals but the standards aren't always applied equally when it comes to Indian programs.

When he took over the White House in January 2001, President Bush created the Program Assessment Rating Tool ( to review dozens of federal programs. The goal was to determine whether taxpayer funds were being managed and spent wisely.

Indian Country saw the results of the effort last month when the fiscal year 2006 budget was released and programs that scored poorly on the PART test lost millions of dollars in funds. Bureau of Indian Affairs school construction, Indian housing and Alaska Native environmental programs were among those that saw cuts totaling more than $200 million as a result of lackluster performance.

Yet two other programs that didn't do any better on the test somehow managed to escape the chopping block. Funding for Indian land consolidation increased to $35 million, up from $22 million two years ago, and BIA law enforcement saw a major boost of $192 million, up from $172 million two years ago, despite mediocre and failing PART scores.

Few would dispute that these two programs deserve the money. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee in fact is calling on $95 million for land consolidation in order to reduce fractionation and management hassles. High rates of violent crime on reservations also point to the need for increased law enforcement services.

But the apparent disconnect highlights some of the problems that tribes have voiced about the use of the ratings tool on Indian programs mandated by trust and treaty obligations. They note that PART isn't applied consistently -- despite the law enforcement boost, tribal courts and funds for new detention facilities were cut -- and that the White House can ignore the ratings for programs that meet an administration priority regardless of how they perform.

Tribes want to be "responsible" and "accountable" for the funds they use, said Jackie Johnson, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians. "This is extremely important to us," she said at NCAI's recent winter session in Washington, D.C.

But Johnson said tribes need to take a more active role to make sure their voices are heard at the White House. "I'm not so sure I have the confidence in the [BIA] to report on my behalf," she said of the administration's reliance on federal agencies to provide information about a program's effectiveness. "We need to be very engaged."

Last month, the White House Office of Management and Budget released an update of the PART ratings for number of Indian programs at the Department of Interior, the Department of Education, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency. In total, scores for 17 programs were provided.

A review shows that most programs deemed "Ineffective" or branded with the "Results Not Demonstrated" label saw their funding cut or flatlined. The only exception was BIA law enforcement, which was increased.

Programs deemed "Adequate" or "Moderately Effective" either saw their funding stay the same or increased nominally. The only exception was Indian land consolidation, which has increased over the past two years and Tribal General Assistance at the EPA, which was cut despite the "Adequate" rating.

None of the Indian programs received an "Effective" rating, the best rating under the PART system.

A full listing of the programs, their ratings and their funding levels follows. The "2004 Actual" column represents the amount, in millions, that was actually spent on the program. The "2005 Enacted" lists the amount, in millions, Congress provided for the program which in most cases was higher than the White House's 2005 request. The final column shows the 2006 request, in millions.

Program Rating 2004 Actual 2005 Enacted 2006 Request
American Indian Vocational Rehabilitation Services Adequate 31 32 33
Tribally Controlled Postsecondary Vocational and Technical Institutions Results Not Demonstrated 7 7 7
Urban Indian Health Program Adequate 32 32 33
Indian Community Development Block Grant Program
Adequate 72 68 58
Native American Housing Block Grants Results Not Demonstrated 650 622 522
Indian 477 - Job Placement and Training Moderately Effective 8 9 9
Indian Forestry Program Adequate 49 53 53
Indian Law Enforcement Results Not Demonstrated 172 180 192
Indian Post Secondary Education - Tribal Colleges Adequate 94 97 88
Indian Roads - Operation and Maintenance Results Not Demonstrated 27 27 27
Indian School Construction Results Not Demonstrated 295 263 174
Indian School Operations Adequate 522 518 522
Tribal Courts Results Not Demonstrated 18 18 18
Tribal Land Consolidation Moderately Effective 22 35 35
Native American Programs - Workforce Investment Act Adequate 57 56 56
Alaska Native Villages Ineffective 43 45 15
Tribal General Assistance Adequate 62 63 58

Source: White House Office of Management and Budget, Program Assessment Rating Tool for FY 2006

Senate Indian Affairs Committee Letter:
FY 2006 Views and Estimates (February 28, 2005)

Budget Documents:
DOI Budget in Brief | Trust Responsibilities | Tribal Communities | Bureau of Indian Affairs | Departmental Offices [includes Office of Special Trustee] | DOI [from White House]