Trust drives small increase in BIA budget
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Reflecting what officials called an historic commitment to trust management and reform, Secretary of Interior Gale Norton released her department's fiscal year 2003 budget on Monday.

As Norton had previewed to tribal leaders last week, the proposed budget includes an increase of $83.6 million for trust activities. "These additional dollars are necessary to address the long overdue changes that I am committed to making in our Indian trust program," she said.

Of the amount, $34.8 million would support trust programs at the Bureau of Indian Affairs and $48.8 million would go to the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians, the office charged with oversight of $3.1 billion in tribal and individual assets. In a statement, OST Deputy David Gilbert called the 44 percent increase the the largest ever requested, raising total funding to $159 million.

But beyond the money, which brings total trust dollars at the Department of Interior to over $300 million, Norton had few other Indian-related increases to push. After seeing a significant gain during the final years of the Clinton administration, President Bush is proposing just a $22.9 million increase at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The request brings total funding at the BIA to $2.2 billion, an increase of just one percent over fiscal year 2002 levels. Budget documents provided by the department put a spin on the figure, however, noting it is a "sustained" 20 percent increase over 2000.

Tribal leaders, however, haven't been satisfied with the news. Noting that the BIA has been historically neglected, National Congress of American Indians President Tex Hall said the trust funding is "just a small portion" of what is needed in Indian Country.

"There's no consultation on the budget," he said of the overall dollars being sought at the department. "It's disappointing."

Keith Harper, the Native American Rights Fund attorney whose class action has stained the Bush administration, said Norton's budget reflected only that she is facing contempt charges. "History has shown they pay attention they they are forced to pay attention," he said. "It's too little, too late."

Beyond trust, the budget continues President Bush's campaign pledge to reduce the construction and repair backlog at Indian schools, raising the total education program funding to $522.8 million. The budget also pushes an $11.9 million privatization effort designed to improve educational achievement at 69 of the lowest-performing schools still operated by the BIA.

Other increases include:
  • Tribal priority allocations (TPA) - A $23.4 million increase to $775.5 million. TPAs are critical to the daily operation of tribal governments and essential services.
  • Family and Child Education (FACE) - A $3 million increase to expand this family program to seven BIA schools.
  • Land and water settlements - An $11 million payment increase to the Shivwits Band of Paiute in Utah (water), totaling $16 million. A $1.1 million increase to Santo Domingo Pueblo of New Mexico (land), totaling $3.1 million.
  • Indian loans - A $507,000 increase in loans to Indian entrepreneurs.

On the other hand, some of the cuts include:
  • Welfare assistance - A cut of $4 million due to less eligible applicants, according to the BIA.
  • Washington State Timber-Fish-Wildlife Project - A $3.0 million cut to this wildlife initiative.
  • Community development - A cut of $3.2 million.
  • Public Safety and Justice Construction - A cut of $500,000 for the Fire Prevention program.

Bureau-wide, the department proposes to spend $1.8 million on core functions including TPA, education, administration and law enforcement. TPA makes up 42 percent of program funding, reflecting the BIA's focus on self-determination.

Overall, the Interior is seeing no changes to its $10.6 billion budget. The increases at BIA, OST and the National Park Service were offset by numerous cuts elsewhere, spurred in part by Bush's improvement initiative to move funding from less effective programs elsewhere.

As part of the effort, the Interior was given "red lights," representing negative performance, on all five major benchmarks. In the "financial management" realm, the White House Office of Management specifically noted: "Due to problems with its tribal trust accounting, DOI cannot provide assurances that its trust management systems and internal controls meet federal standards."

The proposed budget goes onto Congress for review and approval. Fiscal year 2003 starts in October.

Get Budget Documents:
Interior Budget in Brief [DOI] | Budget Highlights: Service to American Indians [DOI] | Budget Highlights: Bureau of Indian Affairs [DOI] | Interior Overview [OMB] | Interior Details [OMB]

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Relevant Links:
Indian Trust, Department of Interior -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -
Trust Reform, NCAI -