Query Concerning Use of Appropriated Funds To Pay Private Attorney

B-205549: Published: Aug 16, 1982. Publicly Released: Jun 4, 1985.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO discussed whether the Bureau of Indian Affairs may use appropriated funds to pay a private attorney to represent an Indian tribe in a land dispute and whether the attorney who represented the tribe as a government employee may also continue to represent it out of government service. GAO stated that, by law, the United States shall represent Indians in civil litigation; however, if the case presents the Department of Justice with a conflict of interest, the Secretary of the Interior may provide counsel. When Interior determined that Justice would not or could not make available what it considered to be adequate representation for the Indians, it used its authority under the Snyder Act to provide legal counsel. GAO also concluded that Interior was authorized to hire a retired attorney, who initially represented the Indians, to maintain attorney continuity in the litigation. Regarding the question conflict of interest, GAO stated that the Indian Self-Determination Act provides an exception for attorneys who have represented Indian tribes. To an adjunct question about legal ethics, GAO responded that the employee does not diminish public confidence in the integrity of the legal system in that he continues to represent the same interests as before his retirement.

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