Indian Issues:

BIA's Distribution of Tribal Priority Allocations

T-RCED-98-168: Published: Apr 21, 1998. Publicly Released: Apr 21, 1998.

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GAO discussed the preliminary results of its review of the Bureau of Indian Affairs' (BIA) distribution of Tribal Priority Allocation (TPA)--or TPA--funds, focusing on: (1) BIA's basis for distributing 1998 TPA funds; (2) total distributions of TPA funds in fiscal year (FY) 1998 and a per-capita analysis of those distributions; (3) revenue and business income information reported by tribes under the Single Audit Act; and (4) what additional revenue and income information may be useful to Congress in deciding whether to distribute TPA funds to tribes.

GAO noted that: (1) two-thirds of the 1998 TPA funds were distributed primarily on the basis of historical levels, and tribes may shift these base funds among TPA activities according to their needs; (2) the remaining one-third, known as non-base funds, are used for such activities as road maintenance and housing improvement and were generally distributed on the basis of specific formulas; (3) in total, 95 percent of the TPA funds appropriated in FY 1998 have been distributed; (4) average TPA distributions varied widely among BIA's 12 area offices when analyzed and compared on a per-capita basis; (5) the per-capita averages ranged from $121 per tribal member with BIA's Muskogee area to $1,020 per tribal member within BIA's Portland area; (6) according to Interior officials, there are reasons for differences in TPA distributions, and they do not consider the population estimates to be reliable; (7) nonfederal entities--including tribes--meeting certain federal assistance thresholds must submit audited financial statements annually under the Single Audit Act; (8) GAO reviewed all 326 financial statements on file with the Department of the Interior that were most recently submitted by tribes; the statements generally covered fiscal years 1995 or 1996; (9) while some tribes reported only their federal revenues, others included revenues from state, local and private sources; (10) in total, the statements reported that these tribes received more than $3.6 billion in revenues during the years covered by them; (11) these revenues included such things as taxes and fees, lease and investment income, funds received through governmental grants and contracts; (12) some tribes also reported income from their businesses for the periods covered by the statements; (13) however, the quality of the information reported in the statements varied; only about half of the statements received unqualified opinions from auditors, while the others were deficient to varying degrees; (14) in deciding whether to consider tribal revenues or business income in distributing TPA funds, information that might be useful to Congress could include more complete and reliable financial information for all tribes; (15) however, there are several impediments to obtaining this information; and (16) for example, under the Single Audit Act, financial statements must be submitted by those nonfederal entities expending at least $300,000 of federal funds in a year and may not include income from tribes' businesses.

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