President Obama seeks $2.9B budget for Bureau of Indian Affairs

President Barack Obama met Alannah Hurley, the executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, left, and elder Mae Syvrud during a visit to Dillingham, Alaska, on September 2, 2015. Photo by Pete Souza / White House

President Barack Obama released the last budget of his administration on Tuesday.

The fiscal year 2017 request for Bureau of Indian Affairs comes to $2.9 billion. If enacted by Congress, that would amount to 5 percent increase from the current level.

"Consistent with the president’s abiding commitment to Indian Country, this budget provides critical support for tribal self-determination and economic advancement, including a historic transformation of the Bureau of Indian Education school system to help improve education for Indian children," Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a press release.

The request includes $278 million for contract support costs, the funds needed to fully support self-determination contracts that tribes use to run federal programs. That's about the same amount as the current level.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: Interior Department Fiscal Year 2017 Budget Conference Call

Contract support costs represent the "cornerstone of self determination," Jewell said during a conference call with reporters. The BIA recently agreed to a $940 million settlement to resolve the Ramah Navajo case over shortfalls in prior contracts.

Obama is also seeking $138.3 million for construction programs at the Bureau of Indian Education. The money will be used for replacement, repair and deferred maintenance at 183 campuses across the nation, according to a budget document.

The BIE is in the process of finalizing a list of five schools that will be replaced in the coming years. Two facilities, both located on the Navajo Nation, are finally being replaced in the current fiscal year.

"The 2017 request for BIE school construction continues the momentum launched with the 2016 appropriation, and provides the funding stability necessary to develop an orderly construction pipeline and properly pace projects," the document states.

Students, parents and staff at the Cove Day School in Arizona hosted Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Bureau of Indian Education officials on January 14, 2016. The school, located on the Navajo Nation, will finally receive replacement funds after waiting on a priority list for more than 10 years. Photo from Navajo Nation OPVP Russell Begaye And Jonathan Nez / Facebook

The BIA and the BIE aren't the only agencies at DOI with Indian programs either. When other bureaus and offices are included, the funding level for Indian Country jumps to $3.55 billion, according to the department.

The money, however, depends on assistance from Capitol Hill. While lawmakers from both parties have supported funding increases at the BIA, they say they are constrained by budget caps that make some of Obama's requests unrealistic.

"We will hold extensive oversight hearings and briefings to make informed, thoughtful, line-by-line funding decisions," Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Kentucky), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a press release "At the end of the day, the ‘power of the purse’ lies with the Congress – not the White House – and we will use that power to decide what to cut and what to fund."

The committee is holding its first budget hearings this week and the schedule includes the Bureau of Reclamation. Obama's budget seeks $217 million for Indian projects at that agency, a figure that includes $106.2 million to implement tribal water rights settlements.

Hearings for the BIA and the BIE have not been scheduled at this point.

FY2017 Budget Documents:
Budget in Brief | Strengthening Tribal Nations and Insular Communities | Indian Affairs | DOI Fact Sheet

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