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Kempthorne touts Indian initiatives in new budget

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne went before the Senate on Tuesday to discuss his department's fiscal year 2008 budget.

In his opening statement, Kempthorne said the Interior Department has four main initiatives in the new budget. Two of them -- one for public safety and the other for education -- target Indian Country.

These initiatives "will help ensure a brighter future in Indian Country, especially for Native American children," said Kempthorne, the former governor of Idaho and a former senator, told the Senate Interior Appropriations subcommittee.

The budget includes $16 million for the Safe Indian Communities initiative. The program will help tribes battle the scourge of methamphetamine, Kempthorne said.

"One of the challenges we face is lack of adequate law enforcement on many tribal lands," Kempthorne testified. "As a result, organized crime and drug cartels have targeted Indian reservations as a hub for the distribution and transportation of methamphetamine."

Kempthorne said the $5 million will be used to hire and train 100 law enforcement officers, $6 million will provide specialized drug enforcement training and $5 million will go to increase staff at detention facilities. "This is more than a budget issue, it's a moral issue," he told the subcommittee.

The second initiative targets the 50,000 children who attend 184 Indian schools. Reports have repeatedly shown that the schools aren't meeting standards under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Kempthorne said the $15 million Improving Indian Education initiative will help lower-performing schools reach their targets. The program includes $5.3 million for school assistance, $4.25 million for student transportation, $3.6 million for management and $1.85 million for a new database of student information.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), the chairman of the subcommittee, and Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), the vice chairwoman, welcomed the additional resources to go after drugs on Indian and federal lands. "We're talking about meth brewed in Mexico," said Craig. "This is truly organized crime and it is the drug cartels."

But Sen. Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico) was critical of what wasn't in budget. He said he was disappointed that the Bush administration is balking at funding three tribal water rights settlements in his state.

"We have been sort of waiting around, wondering when the government will be ready Domenici said. "It looks to me like we can't do that, we have to get more active."

Kempthorne said he recognized the importance of settling tribal water rights suits. Before he left Idaho, he signed a $193 million settlement with the Nez Perce Tribe.

Overall, the Bureau of Indian Affairs would receive $2.2 billion in fiscal year 2008, about the same as current levels. The budget contains cuts of $104 million, including the outright elimination of the $23.4 million Housing Improvement Program and over $7 million in Johnson O'Malley education grants.

Hearing Audio:
Senate Interior Appropriations subcommittee (March 20, 2007)
Note: Hearing starts at about 22 minutes into the feed.

DOI Budget:
FY08 Documents | Safe Indian Communities | Improving Indian Education | BIA | Departmental Offices [includes OST] | DOI [from OMB]

NCAI Indian Country FY 2008 Budget Request:
Visions for a Safe and Self-Reliant Native America (January 25, 2007)

Relevant Links:
Senate Appropriations Committee -
Department of the Interior -
White House Office of Management and Budget -