Indian Programs:

Tribal Influence in Formulating Budget Priorities Is Limited

RCED-91-20: Published: Feb 7, 1991. Publicly Released: Feb 7, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Bureau of Indian Affairs' (BIA) Indian Priority System (IPS) budget formulation process, focusing on the: (1) development and implementation of the IPS process; (2) level of tribal involvement and influence in setting IPS budget priorities; (3) extent to which tribes contracted with BIA to carry out programs; and (4) concerns tribes had regarding the IPS process.

GAO found that: (1) the BIA budget has averaged about $1 billion annually over the past 10 years, with the operation of Indian programs budget component averaging about $850 million a year and the IPS process averaging about $275 million annually; (2) BIA changed various IPS programs based on administrative decisions or legislative directives without notifying area offices or tribes; (3) BIA could not explain why its current guidance provided tribes with a lesser role than earlier guidance in setting IPS budget priorities and funding levels; (4) tribal involvement in the IPS process varied depending on the tribes' relationship with BIA, changes in tribal leadership, and political situations at the tribes' reservations; (5) although tribes exercised some control over budget formulation for contracted programs, they characterized their overall IPS involvement as inconsequential; (6) tribes were particularly concerned about the lack of adequate federal funding for their needs; and (7) BIA and tribal officials often cited federal trust responsibilities as a factor limiting tribal involvement in the IPS process.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The February 1992 report of the Joint Tribal/BIA/Interior Advisory Task Force on BIA Reorganization recommends revising the IPS budget process to increase tribal awareness of and participation in a proposed process called the Tribal Budget System. The new system is intended to address the needs and priorities of tribal governments and includes actions to address the recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs to clarify the purpose of the IPS budget formulation process and the nature of tribal involvement desired in carrying out the process and communicate such clarification to BIA area and agency offices and Indian tribes. In clarifying the process, the Assistant Secretary should address the concerns expressed by tribes relating to the programs subject to the process, such as the retention of funds by area and agency offices for executive direction and administrative services.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior


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