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Interior Department big on new regulations

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has more than two dozen rules in development, including one that has been pending for more than five years, according to the Interior Department's latest regulatory agenda.

Meanwhile, the National Indian Gaming Commission has 15 rules in the pipeline. Over half of them are considered "long-term actions," meaning they won't be finalized any time soon.

The agenda, published in today's issue of the Federal Register, underscores the heavy workload facing Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne (R). He has been nominated by President Bush to replace former Interior Secretary Gale Norton, who left at the end of March after five years at the Interior Department.

During Norton's tenure, the BIA saw its rulemaking increase. In December 2002, the agency only had five proposed regulations, a number that grew to 28 just last year.

But the BIA isn't the only agency with a lot on its plate. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has more proposed rules than any other Interior entity, largely due to its role in overseeing endangered and threatened species.

The National Park Service and the Minerals Management Service have equally large regulatory agendas, according to the document published today. Both agencies have tribal-specific proposals in development, like a self-governance policy for national refuges and rules for the handling of "culturally unidentifiable" ancestors.

At the BIA, some of the more interesting proposals include the "Preference in Employment" regulation. According to the document, the agency is "proposing to revise the preference in employment regulations by clarifying the application of Indian preference" at Interior.

"This revision will be consistent with the regulation for the application of Indian preference for the Indian Health Service," the document states. A notice to trigger the start of the rulemaking process is due to be published in June.

Another interesting new development is the "Law and Order on Indian Reservations" rule to add drug abuse, child abuse, and family violence offenses to the list of prosecutable crimes in the Courts of Indian Offenses. The initial notice is set to be released in July.

Other rules are much farther away from seeing the light of day, provided they are not withdrawn. One is "Standards for Approving Tribal Per Capita Distributions" for the distribution of tribal trust funds. A notice is due to be published in July 2007.

The "Certificates of Degree of Indian Blood" is also scheduled for publication in July 2007. Pending since March 2000, the rule would "codify procedures for processing certificates of degree of Indian blood" but has seen several delays amid legal questions.

Over at the NIGC, the agency charged with regulating the $20 billion tribal casino industry, several rules are due for some initial action in the coming months. Notices for the "Management Contracts" rule and the "Gaming Facility and Site Licensing Standards" are being planned for release in August.

"This rule will establish minimum standards that a tribe must adopt when it licenses gaming facilities within its jurisdiction ... and its tribal gaming ordinance," the text pertaining to the site licensing rule states. "The new regulations are likely to require the tribe to demonstrate that the gaming facility is located on 'Indian lands' as well as identify and apply sufficient environment, public health and safety (EPHS) standards to the gaming facility."

As for the Office of Special Trustee, whose role in implementing trust reform has grown considerably under the Bush administration, only one rule is listed. The "American Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act" was deemed "completed" as of March 28.

But that doesn't mean trust isn't a big issue, as most of the trust reform rules are being handled by the BIA. The proposals -- including "Grazing Permits," "Probate of Indian Estates," "Probate of Indian Estates," and "Fee for Service" -- have been the subject of two Interior meetings in which tribes protested the scale and scope of the effort.

The non-gaming land-into-trust regulations, which were delayed by the Bush administration back in 2001, are due for notice in June 2006. The effort is separate from gaming land regulations that the BIA is rushing to finalize amid Congressional efforts to restrict off-reservation gaming.

Every federal agency is required to publish semiannual agendas of its regulatory activities under the Regulatory Flexibility Act and Executive Order 12866. The updates are published twice a year.

DOI Agenda (Includes BIA and OST):
Text | PDF

NIGC Agenda:
Text | PDF

Relevant Links:
Unified Agendas -