In an effort to bring closure and fairness to a contracting process that has been questioned by Alaskans for nearly two decades, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich is pressing the Obama Administration to act quickly after a U.S. Supreme Court decision on making tribes whole for their contracting costs. The Court, last month, ruled in favor of tribes seeking contract support costs from the federal government that have been underpaid since 1994.
Begich wrote a letter with Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), co-signed by six other senators, to President Obama urging the matter be put to rest quickly.
"The time for litigation is over," the senators write. "As with other recent settlements of historic claims, settlement judgments will be paid directly from the Treasury through the Judgment Fund. Neither the BIA nor the IHS will likely pay these judgments. There is, accordingly, no reason and no excuse for any further delay in resolving these claims."
Hundreds of tribes across the country have contracts with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Indian Health Service (IHS) to manage federal programs, but the contract support costs have not been paid in full--as is required by law. After years of litigation between tribes and federal agencies, the Supreme Court ruling last month said the government must pay each tribe's contract support costs in full.
Contract support helps tribes operate hospitals and clinics, administer welfare programs, run police departments, and carry out other activities such as education, housing, and land and resource management.
The letter, co-signed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), Sen. James Risch (R-ID), and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), is being praised by Alaska organizations who have had to pay costs that should be been paid by the federal government.
"Tribes and their organizations applaud the Senate's efforts to urge the U.S. Department of Justice to swiftly implement the U.S. Supreme Court's Ramah decision which reversed the federal government's practice to systematically underfund Tribal health and social service programs," said Dan Winkelman, VP for Administration & General Counsel, Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation.
"We applaud the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision and the work of the senators who have and continue to make it clear that contract support cost reimbursement is what permits tribes and tribal organizations, like all government contractors, to adequately perform the essential work that might otherwise be the responsibility of the federal government," said Andy Teuber, President and Chairman of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. "Here in Alaska, because of the historic underfunding of this reimbursement, the need to do more with less has become the culture, and unfortunately, the consequences are illustrated in the historic and mounting challenges which confront our people and communities; that of overcoming health and economic disparities."
The letter was copied to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; all agencies involved in the contracting dispute.