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Public Statements

Hearing of Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on President's Fiscal 2006 Budget Requests on Indian Affiars

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


Hearing of Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on President's Fiscal 2006 Budget Requests on Indian Affiars

STATEMENT OF HON. JOHN McCAIN, U.S. SENATOR FROM ARIZONA, CHAIRMAN, COMMITTEE ON INDIAN AFFAIRS

The Chairman. The committee will come to order.

I recognize the need to balance the Federal budget and agree that cuts in discretionary spending programs are
warranted. As a fiscal conservative, I expect to support a budget resolution that keeps discretionary spending down. That
said, I object to many of the decreases in funding that are proposed in the President's fiscal year 2006 budget for Indian
programs.

The Federal Government has continually reneged on its trusts and moral obligations to meet the educational, health
care and housing needs of Indians. These needs far outweigh the imperceptible contribution that the proposed cuts will make to reducing the deficit.

Some of the proposed reductions that are ill-advised are to those programs such as BIA's Tribal Priority Allocation Program
and HUD's Native American Housing Block Grant Program that are managed and administered by the tribes themselves.

A recently released study by the Harvard Project on Indian Economic Development examined 10 years of socio-economic change experienced by Indians living on Indian lands. It concluded that Indians' economic growth and improvements in social well being far exceed progress being made by the overall population. The study attributes this progress to the policies of self-
governance.

Despite this improvement, however, the report notes that tremendous disparities continue to exist between our country's
Indian populations, both gaming and non-gaming tribes, and all other people. These findings support the need for consistent
Federal funding for programs that help Indian tribes achieve self-determination and that allow local decision makers, not
Federal administrators, determine how best to address local needs.

While the proposed budget cuts many Indian programs, a notable exception to this is in the Office of the Special Trustee, within which the budget for historical accounting is slated to grow by $77.8 million or 40 percent, while all around it programs such as those funding education and substance abuse prevention have been drastically cut or eliminated. It is lamentable that we are in a situation that the funding for an accounting appears to have come directly from programs that affect the daily lives of Indians. No doubt this request for funds to conduct a historical accounting is a result of the Cobell v. Norton litigation.

By proposing only $34.5 million for land consolidation, however, the Administration seems to have under-valued another
means of addressing its trust administration problems. The BIA currently administers hundreds of thousands of individual
Indian money accounts, many of which cost more to maintain than the value of the funds moving through them. Last year, Congress amended the Indian Lands Consolidation Act to permit the Department of the Interior to buy up highly fractionated land interests in order to reduce BIA's administrative burden and increase the size of tribal land holdings. Those amendments
authorized $95 million for land consolidation in fiscal year 2006, and $145 million a year for several fiscal years thereafter. The primary reason for these funding authorizations was to eliminate the very conditions that gave rise to the Cobell litigation.

I understand that the Administration's rationale for some of the program cuts is they did not perform well in the OMB's
program assessment rating tool, or PART, evaluations. I would like to examine this. The accountability problems at the BIA,
however, are not helped by the sweeping prohibition on the department's use of the internet that remains in effect by court order in the Cobell case. The BIA has always been a troubled agency, but it is unreasonable to expect it to overcome this with one hand tied behind its back.

While I appreciate the need to provide security for computerized Indian trusts, and support the efforts of both the
plaintiffs and the Department to improve IT security, I cannot help but wonder whether confining the Bureau and much of the
rest of the Department of the Interior to paper transactions in this electronic age is doing more harm than good to the Indian
people, and the rest of the public that the Department is supposed to be serving.

Unfortunately, the Budget Committee has given us only until Friday to submit our views and estimates letter on the proposed
budget. Senator Dorgan and I intend to circulate a draft letter to all offices by noon tomorrow. We ask that all comments on
this draft be submitted by 5 p.m. tomorrow so we can submit the letter, at least this first one, to the Budget Committee on
Friday.

I look forward to hearing from the witnesses. I hope that is the longest opening statement that I will ever make as
chairman of this committee. [Laughter.]

The Chairman. But I would like to reemphasize to my colleagues that the Cobell issue impacts everything else that
we do in our programs concerning Native Americans. We have to get this resolved or say that we will leave this to the courts
in the years and perhaps decades to come for them to settle. It is an issue that impacts everything else that we do, and one
that I think therefore has to have a very high priority.

http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=109_senate_hearings&docid=98864.wais

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