Doing more with less at the BIA
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The Bush administration is proposing to reduce unemployment in Indian Country, increase tribal timber revenue, improve the quality of life for American Indians and Alaska Natives and make reservation roads as safe as possible.

These lofty goals, among others, are contained in the Bureau of Indian Affairs' new performance plan. Mandated by federal law, Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb revised his agency's fiscal year 2003 and long-term targets in January.

But while many tribal leaders can get behind the bureau's new performance measures, they might question how they are to be achieved. In some cases, the BIA is seeking to meet its goals by cutting funds and, in others, by not providing any increases.

For example, funds tied to reduction of unemployment are being scaled back dramatically by 25 percent next fiscal year. Nevertheless, the performance plan boasts that the BIA, by 2005, "will improve human capital in Indian communities and reduce the unemployment in Indian Country to 38 percent."

Not that the BIA isn't well on its way to success. Unemployment on reservations nationwide has dropped from 50 percent to 43 percent over the past years, although the jobless rate is as high as 70 percent in some regions, according to tribally-supplied figures.

Other targets don't seem to be faring as well. In fiscal year 2001, the bureau failed to meet its timber harvesting goals, citing a less than favorable market.

Yet the BIA wants to "increase tribal revenue and jobs" by cutting back on the amount of timber harvested next year by 100 million board feet. While acknowledging a "continued decline" in the timber market, McCaleb's plan actually calls to make more money with less.

Some might call such measures Enron arithmetic or wishful thinking. But, with the exception of trust reform, which gets significant boosts across the board, the performance plan is peppered with numerous examples of an emerging do-more-with-less philosophy.

The trend is both a reversal and slow-down of gains made during the final years of the Clinton administration. While the BIA achieved just 32 out of 53 goals (a 60 percent success rate) using Clinton-budgeted money in 2001, a good number of the targets, such as increasing school construction and replacement, were dramatic leaps over the years prior.

New realities, however, have forced McCaleb to make what he has called "a matter of prioritization." When asked by lawmakers at a budget meeting earlier this month to explain his cuts, he said: "That's just one of the hard choices."

Some of them include:
  • A cut of $500,000 to the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, the only federal agency charged with ensuring the authenticity of Indian arts, a billion dollar industry.
  • Reduction of all funds ($3 million) to the United Tribes Technical College, an inter-tribal vocational institution.
  • Removal of all funds ($1.2 million) to the Crownpoint Institute of Technology on the Navajo Nation.
  • A cut to all funds ($1 million) to an Alaska Native flight training program.
  • Elimination of all funds ($1 million) to an Alaska Native vocational boarding school in Bethel.
  • Reduction of all funds ($100,000) to the Ponca Tribe's economic development program. The tribe's reservation was terminated in the 1960s and has never been restored.

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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