Assistant Secretary for Indian Affair Tara Sweeney greets leaders of the United South and Eastern Tribes at the organization's meeting in Arlington, Virginia, on March 4, 2019. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs takes yet another look at 'high-risk' programs

By Acee Agoyo

Update: The committee released the witness list on Monday afternoon. It is now included in this post.

"Where Are They Now" sounds like an old cable television program but this week it's the name of a hearing before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

For the third year in a row, the committee will be taking a look at "high-risk" programs that serve tribes and their communities. The designation arose when the Government Accountability Office placed Indian education, Indian health and Indian energy on its list of vulnerable federal programs back in 2017.

"This Congress, the committee will continue to hold the agencies accountable by examining the GAO high-risk list," Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), the chairman of the panel, said of the programs operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Indian Education and the Indian Health Service.

"Progress has been made but these agencies need to make improvements to be removed from the list," Hoeven told tribal leaders during the National Congress of American Indians winter session in Washington, D.C., last month.

But even though two of the three "high-risk" programs are overseen by the Department of the Interior, the Trump administration is not sending a senior political leader to the committee's hearing this week. Assistant Secretary for Indian Affair Tara Sweeney has yet to testify before Congress since being confirmed to the post more than six months ago.

"We take the trust responsibility seriously," Sweeney, who is the first Alaska Native woman to hold the position, told leaders of the United South and Eastern Tribes last Monday as they held their Impact Week meeting in Washington.

Instead of Sweeney, Interior will be represented by Tony Dearman , the director of the BIA, and Darryl LaCounte, the acting director of the BIA, according to the department's Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs. While both are longtime and experienced employees at their respective agencies, tribal leaders believe Indian Country needs a higher-level advocate on their side to make improvements for programs that serve tribes and their citizens.

"You should be able to rely on us to be that advocate," Sweeney said after the issue was raised at USET's meeting last week.

The hearing takes place at 2:30pm Eastern on Tuesday in Room 628 of the Senate Dirksen Office Building. The witness list follows:
Director, Health Care Team
U.S. Government Accountability Office
Washington, DC

Director, Bureau of Indian Education
U.S. Department of the Interior
Washington, DC

Acting Director for the Bureau of Indian Affairs
U.S. Department of the Interior
Washington DC

Principal Deputy Director, Indian Health Service
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Rockville, MD

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Notice
"Where Are They Now: Indian Programs on the GAO High Risk List." (March 12, 2019)

Government Accountability Office Report:
Improving Federal Management of Programs that Serve Tribes and Their Members (February 15, 2017)

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