Health Care:

Award of Indian Health Professions Scholarships

OSI-99-3R: Published: Jan 15, 1999. Publicly Released: Jan 15, 1999.

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Robert H. Hast
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO investigated: (1) the Indian Health Service (IHS) award of Indian Health Professions Scholarships (graduate scholarships) pursuant to 25 U.S.C. section 1613a of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.

GAO noted that: (1) 87 of the 1,164 students who received graduate scholarships pursuant to 25 U.S.C. section 1613a for the 1993-1997 academic years were ineligible because they were not members of federally recognized tribes; (2) these 87 students received $4.7 million in scholarship funds; (3) the IHS explained that 38 of the 87 students received scholarship awards because they had previously received undergraduate or graduate scholarships under an expanded definition of Indian; (4) IHS believed that irrespective of the language of the statute, the legislative history supports permitting these students to continue receiving scholarship awards; (5) in GAO's view, the language of the statute clearly provides that these students are ineligible for graduate scholarships, and GAO finds little support in the legislative history for a contrary view; (6) as for the remaining 49 students, IHS explained that it had relied solely upon documentation provided by applicants to establish federally recognized tribal membership; (7) its reliance on inaccurate documentation resulted in the award of scholarships to students who were not members of federally recognized tribes; (8) during its investigation, GAO made suggestions to both IHS and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to assist them in determining claims of tribal membership; (9) BIA is acting on GAO's suggestions regarding documentation of tribal membership, and IHS has adopted GAO's suggestion to use BIA documents to determine Indian eligibility; and (10) IHS officials have stated that they will request congressional clarification of the eligibility requirement.

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