Indian Programs:

Tribal Priority Allocations Do Not Target the Neediest Tribes

RCED-98-181: Published: Jul 17, 1998. Publicly Released: Jul 17, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the: (1) Bureau of Indian Affairs' (BIA) method for distributing Tribal Priority Allocation (TPA) funds; and (2) other revenues available to the tribes.

GAO noted that: (1) under the current method for distributing TPA funds, there is no assurance that the funds are effectively targeting the most pressing needs among the tribes; (2) currently, BIA distributes two-thirds of TPA funds, referred to as base funds, largely on the basis of historical funding levels; (3) in distributing these base funds, BIA does not take into consideration changing conditions, such as the tribes' levels of need or the tribes' own revenues from nongovernmental sources; (4) the remaining one-third of TPA funds, known as non-base funds, are used for such activities as road maintenance and housing improvement and are generally distributed on the basis of specific program criteria; (5) BIA's distribution of TPA base funds has been widely criticized over the last 20 years for, among other things, not being responsive to changes in the relative needs of the tribes; (6) furthermore, because the tribes' own revenues are not considered in the distribution of TPA base funds, the tribes with the highest revenues receive TPA base funds just as the tribes with the lowest revenues do; (7) GAO's analysis showed that each of the 6 tribes with the highest reported revenues received more TPA base funds than did each of the 16 tribes with no reported revenues or with losses; (8) in addition, 62 small tribes reported having revenues of their own yet received the same amount of TPA base funds as small tribes that reported no revenues of their own; (9) a decision about whether and in what way to redistribute TPA funds is as complex as it is controversial; (10) as long as BIA continues to distribute TPA base funds on a historical basis, it cannot be certain that the distribution accommodates the changing needs of the tribes; (11) to determine an equitable distribution among the tribes, several types of data may be considered, however, much of this information is not currently or readily available in a consistent and reliable form; (12) furthermore, questions of equity in federal financial assistance extend beyond BIA and TPA funds; (13) although TPA was nearly half of BIA's 1998 appropriation, it represented just 10 percent of the $7.5 billion in federal funding appropriated for Indian programs in 1998; and (14) ultimately, however, the issues of how TPA and other federal funds should be distributed and what information should be considered in that process are policy questions for Congress and other federal decisionmakers to address.

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