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Bureau of Indian Education: Actions Needed to Improve Management of a Supplemental Education Program

GAO-20-308 Published: Apr 09, 2020. Publicly Released: Apr 10, 2020.
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Fast Facts

American Indian and Alaska Native students enrolled in public schools have consistently performed below other students on national tests. The Bureau of Indian Education’s Johnson-O’Malley program provides these students with academic support and enrichment activities, such as Native language classes.

The Bureau needs to improve how it manages the program by:

having key information such as an accurate list of contractors providing services

providing training for contractors

clearly defining and identifying staff roles and responsibilities, including who is responsible for conducting oversight

We made 5 recommendations to improve management.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Department of the Interior's (Interior) Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) does not have key information to manage the Johnson-O'Malley (JOM) program which provides supplemental education services to meet the specialized and unique needs of American Indian and Alaska Native students. For example, BIE does not maintain a complete and accurate list of all its JOM contractors, who provide services including targeted academic supports, Native language classes, and cultural activities. In May 2019, BIE began to identify all the contractors, but officials acknowledged that their list is still incomplete, and GAO found problems with the list, such as duplicate entries. Federal internal control standards state that an agency should have relevant, reliable information to run its operations. Maintaining a complete list of contractors would improve BIE's administration of the JOM program.

BIE does not provide any training for JOM contractors. For example, BIE does not provide training to contractors on how to effectively manage their JOM programs or meet program requirements. By providing training for contractors, BIE could ensure that contractors understand the program and are equipped to provide services to meet the educational needs of their students.

In addition, BIE has not clearly defined the roles and responsibilities or identified the staff needed to effectively administer the JOM program (see figure). For example, when BIE closed a field office in California, staff were not identified to administer the office's contracts, including helping contractors renew their contracts when they expired. Also, BIE has not identified a role for Interior's attorneys in reviewing the contracts and some contractors have types of contracts for which they are not eligible. Further, BIE has not identified staff to conduct consistent program oversight, which is important to mitigating the risk of misuse and abuse of JOM funds. Until all JOM roles and responsibilities have been defined and identified, challenges may persist.

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Why GAO Did This Study

American Indian and Alaska Native students enrolled in public schools have performed consistently below other students on national assessments from 2005-2019. The JOM program provides academic and cultural supports, through contracts, to meet the specialized and unique educational needs of American Indian and Alaska Native students enrolled in public schools and select private schools. In fiscal year 2019, Interior allocated about $23 million for the JOM program, according to Interior's budget documentation.

GAO was asked to review issues related to Interior's JOM program, administered by BIE. This report examines the extent to which BIE (1) has key program information, (2) provides training to JOM contractors, and (3) clearly defines and identifies JOM roles and responsibilities. GAO reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, and both BIE and JOM contractor documents; analyzed existing data and information on JOM; and interviewed agency officials, five JOM contractors of different types, and two nonprofit organizations selected for their knowledge of the JOM program.

Recommendations

GAO is making five recommendations, including that the Director of BIE should maintain an accurate and complete list of JOM contractors, develop JOM training, and clearly define roles and responsibilities and identify staff for carrying out JOM functions. Interior agreed with the recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Bureau of Indian Education The Director of the Bureau of Indian Education should develop a systematic process for identifying JOM contractors and maintaining an accurate and complete list of contractors and other relevant information about contractors, such as the amount of JOM funds they receive and their current points of contact. (Recommendation 1)
Closed – Implemented
Interior concurred with this recommendation. The Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) reviewed and updated its list of JOM contractors, which resulted in the addition of previously unidentified JOM contractors. BIE provided an Excel spreadsheet of the current list of contractors and their locations. BIE also established a policy and written procedures to ensure that the list of JOM Contractors is current and updated on an annual basis. The procedures for maintaining a complete and accurate contractor list include detailed guidance for JOM program specialists to annually update existing contractor information, including adding any JOM new contractors to the list and removing contractors who have terminated their programs.
Bureau of Indian Education The Director of the Bureau of Indian Education, in coordination with the Bureau of Indian Affairs as needed, should establish a process to track and monitor the timeliness of JOM disbursements to non-tribal contractors, including identifying a target date for disbursing funds to these contractors. (Recommendation 2)
Open
Interior concurred with this recommendation. The BIE, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and other partners will work collaboratively to publish and implement a policy and procedure that accurately tracks and monitors timely disbursement of JOM funds to these contractors. As of December 2021, BIE has not provided an update on these efforts.
Bureau of Indian Education The Director of the Bureau of Indian Education should develop a timeline to assess the usefulness of the information they are collecting from JOM contractors and update JOM information collection forms, including converting them to an electronic format to reduce the burden on contractors to complete them. (Recommendation 3)
Open
Interior concurred with this recommendation. In November 2021, BIE reported that they have updated a JOM form used to collect information on how many students JOM contractors serve. The agency did not provide an update on their progress in developing a timeline to assess the usefulness of other information they are collecting from contractors. We will continue to monitor the progress of this effort.
Bureau of Indian Education The Director of the Bureau of Indian Education should develop and provide training to contractors on administering the JOM program. (Recommendation 4)
Closed – Implemented
Interior concurred with this recommendation. BIE developed an online training module available anytime on its website for all current and prospective JOM contractors. The training covers the fundamentals that contractors need to operate a JOM program. BIE has also hired three additional JOM specialists whose responsibilities include conducting regular outreach to all contractors and developing customized training when requested. As of February 2022, these staff have provided 15 customized trainings on the JOM program at the request of individual contractors.
Bureau of Indian Education The Director of the Bureau of Indian Education should clearly define the roles and responsibilities and identify the staff necessary for conducting critical JOM functions, including administering contracts, reviewing the appropriateness of contract types, and overseeing those contractors that are subject to BIE oversight. (Recommendation 5)
Open
Interior concurred with this recommendation. The BIE, BIA and other partners plan to work collaboratively to develop an inter-bureau policy that clearly identifies each agency's roles and responsibilities. They are also developing a data-informed workforce analysis for the JOM program. They will continue to develop and implement a data-informed workforce strategy to identify human capital needs and clearly identify and assign critical JOM-related functions among BIE divisions, offices and staff. In November 2021, BIE reported that they are working on completing a JOM policy handbook that will define JOM roles and responsibilities but did not provide an update on its efforts to develop a workforce strategy. We will continue to monitor BIE's progress on these efforts.

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