When it comes to adequate budgets for federal Indian Affairs business, don’t hold your breath. In Cobell we learned about a historical and tragic Indian history of congressional and government neglect of their constitutional trust duties. The U.S. has been trying to get out of the Indian business incognito and deteriorating budgets is also historic and their answer. Also, a Government Accountability Office, Office of the Inspector General, Senate Panel and public investigative reports indicated historic mismanagement, mis-spending and inadequate budgets that caused Indian program failure. This in turn caused destruction of Indian land where the trust is and continued deterioration of federal services to Tribes. Tribes and BIA submit an annual budget request to the government. This budget request is usually based on need, has required justification based on what problems can be resolved and what can be accomplished. In some cases, it can build a stronger foundation for tribal programs delivering services. Then without proper funding, problems carryover into the next fiscal year until overwhelmed and waiting to be discovered until the next investigation. Then periodically another Indian lawsuit usually declares the government in breach of their trust responsibilities again. The lawsuits are expensive. The government again defends their mismanagement and it waste time and resources that could be put to better use. Why does Tribes or Individual Indians always have to sue the government for their basic rights and entitlements? The U.S. Courts declared that lack of funding in Indian lawsuits is not a legal excuse for failing to administer their trust duties to Indians. But does that mean the next government budget for Indian Affairs is going to be more than adequate? Usually not but the only increases will be for the cost of living allowances public utilities and for government employee pay raises, awards and promotions. In Cobell, the government failed in administering their trust duties but still gets awarded annually. Who knows what the final costs will be for Cobell and the governments trust reform attempts? At one time $187 billion was thought to be owed to Indians and now it’s settled at $3.4 billion. The costs of all trust reform attempts of the broken government Indian system are also in the high billions and it’s still not fixed. Judge Lamberth said the government can only explain an appearance of trust and the government conducted an expensive appearance of trust reform but still fixed nothing. As an Individual Indian accountholder, I am given $1,500 to forget all that happened and surrender my right to sue the government. New and adequate money for Indian budgets could have been approved annually commensurate with need and trust duty preventing expensive lawsuits. You will not see large, annual increases in Indian budgets and then the government gets sued again for the same broken trust system. But in this case, lawsuits are cheaper for the government. Is this what they call “simple actuarial analysis.” It also forces them out of the Indian trust business and they can still appropriate low-ball Indian budgets. Thomas M. Wabnum, BIA/OST Budget Analyst retired.
Saturday, February 5, 2011 - 17:02