Personnel Practices:

Propriety of Selected Personnel Actions at the Bureau of Indian Affairs

GGD-88-81: Published: May 17, 1988. Publicly Released: May 17, 1988.

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Bernard L. Ungar
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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) personnel practices and policies and selected personnel actions involving 12 employees to determine the propriety of: (1) a waiver of BIA rules requiring Indian preference in reassignments occurring due to reductions-in-force (RIF); (2) personnel details under Indian preference law and under BIA and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) rules; and (3) the noncompetitive appointment of a non-Indian to a Senior Executive Service (SES) position.

GAO found that: (1) Indians represented 96 percent of BIA employees in grades 1 through 7, compared to 65 percent in grades 13 and up; (2) 72 percent of BIA central office employees were Indians, compared to 82 percent at its area offices; and (3) as of December 1987, non-Indian employees occupied 33 key positions, 18 were appointed as best qualified with no qualified Indians available, 7 were selected based on tribes granting waivers of Indian preference, 5 were reassigned due to RIF, and 3 were detailed. GAO also found that BIA improper personnel actions against 5 of the 12 employees included: (1) an improper waiver of BIA rules requiring Indian preference in reassignments; (2) 1 detail that violated Indian preference law; (3) 5 instances in which details did not comply with applicable rules; and (4) 1 instance of nonadherence to the unwritten policy of advertising an SES position before the Department of the Interior filled the position with a non-Indian. In addition, GAO found that: (1) in 1984, the annual report on internal controls identified BIA noncompliance with its internal rules and procedures and BIA failure to routinely conduct personnel evaluations in its area offices; and (2) although OPM suggested that BIA conduct a personnel management evaluation, as of March 1988, BIA did not plan to do so.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On February 18, 1989, BIA amended its personnel manual to delete the paragraph which permitted reassignments of non-Indians to vacant positions only prior to advertising the positions. BIA took this alternative action instead of amending its manual to authorize waivers and describe standards to be applied.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should prohibit the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs from waiving the BIA rule requiring Indian preference in reassignments to advertised positions during RIF unless or until the rule is amended to authorize waivers and describe the standards that will be applied in effecting waivers.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Interior's response states that advertising policy is already in place; however, the written policy does not require advertising positions before reassignment of SES personnel. The existing written policy gives management the flexibility to fill positions by means other than formal advertising. Interior continues to believe its policy is very clear and has no plans to publish additional guidance.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should specify in writing the policy to advertise SES positions before filling them with non-Indians and institute internal control procedures for ensuring adherence to the policy.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior


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