No love lost between McCaskill and ANCs

Rob Capriccioso

WASHINGTON – Through her words and actions in 2009, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., became one of the biggest opponents of programs that have strongly aided American Indian and Alaska Native businesses.

In July, McCaskill held a Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight hearing, during which she expressed beliefs that Alaska Native Corporations have received unwarranted preferences for federal contracts.

Since their establishment in the early 1970s, ANCs have gone on to operate as small businesses and have been able to become part of the government’s Small Business Administration 8(a) program.

In the 1980s and 1990s Congress created incentives for ANCs to participate in the program, allowing certain preferences, such as being able to receive no-bid contracts.

A report by the SBA inspector general found that ANCs received 26 percent of the total 8(a) small business contracts in 2008 – a finding that was troubling to McCaskill.

The senator ended up offering an amendment to a defense spending authorization bill, aimed at severely limiting the participation of not only ANCs, but also tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations that operate in the program.

Quick action by Alaska’s senators served to quash the maneuver, with McCaskill choosing to pull the amendment, but also promising to keep up her battle.

That a Democratic senator who was a close ally of President Barack Obama during his campaign for the presidency would come on so strongly against Native-focused programs was a surprise to many observers.

“It is inappropriate to implement sweeping changes to Native 8(a) participation without consulting committees that have jurisdiction or special interest in these areas,” reflected Sarah Lukin, executive director of the Native American Contractors Association.

“The executive branch is bound by an executive order to ensure consultation. We should expect no less from the Congress.”

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, posited that McCaskill might not have a good understanding of the federal trust responsibility toward tribes.

While McCaskill’s effort has been at something of a standstill as of late, the senator has vowed to keep the issue alive. Meanwhile, Alaska Natives have vowed to keep close watch of her actions in 2010.

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