Tribal leaders hope to counteract Bush budget cuts
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Tribal leaders are meeting in the Washington, D.C., area this week to finalize their response to the Bush administration's plans to scale back the Bureau of Indian Affairs budget.

The BIA's tribal budget advisory council hopes to reverse the 2.4 percent cut in store for fiscal year 2006. The reduction, announced last month, comes on top of a 2.3 percent cut in 2005.

"We had a slight chance to grow with the FY 2005 budget," said Lawrence T. Morgan, speaker of the Navajo Nation council, "now it seems our work for the FY 2006 budget will be extensive."

The ink was barely dry on the 2005 budget when new assistant secretary Dave Anderson shocked tribal leaders by announcing a $55.3 million cut for the following year. Once inflation and salary increases are taken into account, a BIA budget aide said the impact would come to 3.6 percent, or nearly $80 million.

At the March meeting of the advisory council, tribal leaders were expecting to see some sort of growth amid complaints of cuts to a number of reservation-level programs.

"There's people behind those cuts -- education, human services, social services, the Indian Child Welfare Act, law enforcement -- the list just goes on," said Tex Hall, president of the National Congress of American Indians and co-chair of the advisory council.

Although Anderson has promised to advocate for a more optimistic budget, tribal leaders have appealed to President Bush directly. In addition to a letter signed by two dozen tribes, Navajo Nation vice president Frank Dayish Jr. raised the issue at a Republican fundraiser in Washington, D.C. on April 1.

"I feel that the BIA budget cuts are one of the most important obstacles facing our nation and all other Indian nations," Dayish told the president. According to Dayish, Bush replied, "I will look into the matter."

For the coming year, the BIA's budget will be reduced overall by $52 million. Education programs, including school construction and repair, scholarships, early childhood development and tribal colleges, are taking the largest hit.

Those cuts came even as the budget for the Office of Special Trustee has increased by 54 percent and 44 percent in the past two years. Tribal leaders say the numbers are solid proof that the Bush administration is funding trust reform at the expense of programs that directly serve tribes and tribal members.

The outlook for 2006 was contained in a March 12 memo from Lynn Scarlett, the Department of Interior's assistant secretary for policy, management and budget. She directed agency heads, including Anderson, to prepare a budget based on a department-wide cut of $259 million.

"Budgeting within these constrained funding levels will be even more challenging than in 2005," Scarlett wrote.

According to the document's figures, which are not final, the BIA would absorb 22 percent of that cut. OST would only be cut by $8 million.

Anderson's response to the projections is due May 14. Tribal leaders are meeting today and tomorrow to work on their alternative proposal. They also plan on approaching members of Congress, many of whom have expressed disappointment with funding levels for Indian Country.

"My district is home to the largest concentration of Native Americans in the nation, I could not bring myself to vote for a budget that did not fully address their uniquely severe situation," said Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) late last month as he explained why he voted against the $2.4 trillion budget resolution for fiscal year 2005.

Relevant Documents:
Lynn Scarlett Memo (March 12, 2004) | Tribal Leaders Letter to President Bush (March 23, 2004)

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Tribal leaders denounce BIA budget plans as reckless (03/24)
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Cuts run deep for tribal programs at BIA (03/09)
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Tribal leaders pressing Congress on funding (02/11)
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