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GOP leader outlines agenda for Senate Indian Affairs Committee

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming). Still image from 2015 State of Indian Nations / NCAI / YouTube

Indian Country can expect hearings on energy development, government waste, irrigation projects and juvenile justice under the leadership of Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), the new chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

During his response to the State of Indian Nations address, Barrasso outlined his agenda for the 114th Congress. He's already introduced S.209, a bill to streamline federal review of Indian energy projects.

"Washington should be empowering tribes not restraining them," Barrasso said to applause from tribal leaders who gathered at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., last Thursday.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: State of Indian Nations

Barrasso also plans to examine federal agencies to ensure they are more accountable to tribes and taxpayers. He did not provide any examples during his speech but he said he will be holding oversight hearings in order to "eliminate waste" in certain programs.

"The committee will examine these programs to ensure that they are working efficiently and productively for Native Americans," he said.

On an issue close to the tribes in his home state, Barrasso will be introducing legislation to address irrigation projects managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He said the agency has racked up a backlog of $500 million-plus in deferred maintenance.

"Deferred maintenance means inefficient water delivery and damaged infrastructure," Barrasso said. "For the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, these issues are perpetual problems."

"The department has not developed a long-term strategy in managing these irrigation systems," added Barrasso, echoing the findings from a 2006 Government Accountability Office report on the matter.

Finally, Barrasso plans to address issues facing Indian children, whom he called "the most vulnerable." He cited the final report of the Indian Law and Order Commission, which he said uncovered "alarming" issues in the juvenile justice system.

"According to this report, Indian juveniles are held in detention at higher rates and for longer periods of time than any other juvenile population in the United States," Barrasso said. "Too often, these young people are not provided the educational or rehabilitative services needed to help them turn their lives around."

The committee will be kicking off its work this Wednesday with a business meeting and an oversight hearing. A panel of tribal, Indian and youth leaders will testify about their priorities for Indian Country.

Committee Notices:
Organizational Business Meeting (January 28, 2015)
Oversight Hearing on "Indian Country Priorities for the 114th Congress" (January 28, 2015)

Government Accountability Office Report -- Indian Irrigation Projects: Numerous Issues Need to Be Addressed to Improve Project Management and Financial Sustainability:
AbstractHighlights  | Full Report | Text-Only

Related Stories:
State of Indian Nations as delivered by NCAI President Cladoosby (1/22)
Sen. Barrasso delivers response to NCAI's State of Indian Nations (1/22)
Senate Indian Affairs Committee adds Republican members (01/13)
NCAI president to deliver State of Indian Nations on January 22 (1/8)
GAO Report: Irrigation projects not a priority at BIA (3/30)

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