Washington in brief
The back story on House recognition hearing
At a hearing on federal recognition of the Natural Resources Committee in the House of Representatives Oct. 3, Rep. Ralph Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, engaged in a testy exchange with Interior's assistant secretary for Indian affairs, Carl Artman, over the Justice Department's reported objections to the constitutionality of H.R. 2837. The House bill had come before the committee proposing to remove the responsibility for federal recognition from the BIA and place it with an independent entity the bill would create upon its enactment into law. The BIA and its Office of Federal Acknowledgment have endured two weeks of acid criticism in both chambers, and from both sides of the political aisle, for a recognition process that subjects petitioning groups to 10, 20, 30 years in the queue before a decision is even considered.
The constitutionality issue drew pointed questions from Abercrombie but no altogether clear answers from Artman, who expressed uncertainty as to the DoJ's exact constitutional objection or objections.
For Tom Rodgers, a lobbyist with Carlyle Consulting, the exchange drew attention to what he termed ''the 800-pound gorilla in the room - the Republican Study Committee in the House and the Republican Steering Committee in the Senate.'' The House committee and members of the Senate committee have pushed a ''theoretical stalking horse'' of unconstitutionality against the Akaka bill (seeking the federal recognition of a Native Hawaiian governing entity) and against Indian health care (as found in the Indian Health Care Improvement Act reauthorization bill), Rodgers said. He added that the minute any bill on federal recognition makes headway in either chamber, the committees will raise constitutional objections.
Under the current administration, he said, moving bills to reform the federal recognition process amounts to ''a quicker way to get to no.''
That political reality, he added, makes it all the more incumbent on Congress, a deliberative body, to work its will as it has in the majority of federal recognition cases.
Acting director of Smithsonian sends regrets
Through National Museum of the American Indian Executive Director W. Richard West, who retires in November, Smithsonian Institution acting director Cristian Samper has distributed a letter to the NMAI board of trustees expressing regret that word of the selection of Kevin Gover as West's successor reached public media before it reached some trustees.
Samper wrote that after reviewing the selection process that produced Gover as one of two top candidates, ''I believe the process overall followed best practices.'' The same search and selection process, in use at all of the Smithsonian's so-called unit museums, led to West's hire and his own, he added.
''I agree that we should have made sure all the members of the board were informed prior to the announcement, and regret that this was not the case.'' In closing, Samper invited the NMAI trustees to focus on supporting Gover and museum staff during ''this transition'' - that is, the museum's.
The protests of lead trust funds lawsuit plaintiff Elouise Cobell over Gover's appointment, only about a month after the latest blow to the Smithsonian - document-shredding in neglect of a congressional investigation, a hasty resignation, excuse-making - again switched a spotlight on the institution's own transition.
Linda St. Thomas, director of communications at the Smithsonian, said it is Smithsonian practice at all unit museums to inform staff and trustee boards of an executive director's hire before announcing it publicly. The internal notification is by e-mail, she said, and in the case of Gover the news moved faster than anticipated. More care will be taken in the future, she added.
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