The Indian Self-Determination Act:

Many Obstacles Remain

HRD-78-59: Published: Mar 1, 1978. Publicly Released: Mar 1, 1978.

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Title I of P.L. 93-638, the Indian Self-Determination Act, gives Indian tribes the opportunity to administer Federal Indian programs through contracts which they must request. The Secretaries of the Interior and Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) are directed to contract with the tribes to plan and conduct programs which the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and/or the Indian Health Services (IHS) administer for the Indians.

In three areas reviewed, very little control has shifted to tribes since implementation of title I. Of 50 title I contracts given to the five selected tribes during fiscal years 1975-1977, only 1 resulted in a shift of services from the agency to the tribe, 40 represented renewals of previous contracts, and 9 were for new programs. Most tribal officials said that they did not plan to request contracts for large-scale takeovers of programs, citing such obstacles as Federal procedures and policies, beliefs that contracts do not offer greater opportunities, and uncertainties and fears related to program administration and funding. Because of the agencies' interpretation of self-determination, they have adopted policies of reacting to tribal initiatives rather than encouraging tribes to contract for programs. GAO believes that the act allows the agencies to encourage and assist tribes without violating the concept of self-determination.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and HEW should direct BIA and IHS to establish criteria for measuring progress in implementing the Self-Determination Act and develop and implement procedures for: making sure that tribes have a full understanding of their options under title I, helping tribes obtain information needed for informed decisions on assuming programs, and guiding the tribes in determining how to acquire needed skills or resources to contract for a particular program. Some tribes may require a description of programs available for contracting and a list or description of services delivered to the tribe.

    Agency Affected:


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