Data Use and Regulatory Status of the Indian Housing Block Grant Program
What GAO Found
Allocations for the Indian Housing Block Grant (IHBG) program, administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), are based on a funding formula that accounts for, among other things, housing stock (the costs of operating and modernizing HUD-funded housing units developed prior to the enactment of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act of 1996) and population counts and characteristics. Currently, HUD uses the 2000 decennial census and population service estimates (based on birth and death rate data) from the Indian Health Service to inform the population count and housing characteristics portion in the funding formula. In the event that a tribe believes that the 2000 decennial census does not accurately reflect the tribe's population, the tribe may challenge the census data and submit its own documentation, which must meet certain regulatory requirements. HUD officials told GAO that since 2004, HUD has received a total of 45 challenges to the 2000 decennial census, 15 of which have been successful and may have resulted in changes to the allocation. In June 2014, a negotiated rulemaking committee composed of tribal representatives and HUD officials established a study group to identify and evaluate alternative data sources that could replace the 2000 decennial census data. The study group intends to issue a final report containing a recommendation for a data source or sources to be used in the IHBG funding formula. The study group expects to submit this report to the negotiated rulemaking committee for consideration in July 2015. If the committee approves the study group's recommendation, it will submit the proposal to the Secretary of HUD for approval. According to HUD, if the Secretary approves the recommendation, it would then undergo a notice and comment period in the Federal Register before becoming a final rule.
Why GAO Did This Study
American Indian and Alaska Native populations (Native Americans) primarily receive federal assistance for low-income housing through the IHBG program. IHBG was established by the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act of 1996 (NAHASDA). To make funding allocations to tribal entities, the IHBG program has largely relied on the 2000 U.S. decennial census data, which included information on population counts, housing, and income characteristics. Recent changes in how census data are collected and whether the decennial census still serves as the best source of data have been discussed during recent negotiated rulemaking meetings--a collaborative process used by HUD staff and tribal representatives to develop regulations for the IHBG program.
GAO was asked to look at the data used for the allocation of funds for HUD's IHBG program. This product presents descriptive information addressing (1) factors that may affect the allocation of IHBG funds, (2) data used in the need component of the IHBG funding formula, and (3) activities of negotiated rulemaking associated with data used to allocate IHBG funds.
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