Washington in brief
Bush punts on earmarks
Moving carefully in a presidential election year that hasn't been stacking up well for Republicans so far, President George W. Bush has issued an executive order that would strip ''earmarks'' from federal budget appropriations.
But it won't do so until fiscal year 2009, for most of which Bush will not be president and Republicans - defending an unusually high number of open seats in a year of scandals, resignations and retirements - may not count the same number of seats in Congress they do now. In addition, an executive order doesn't have the force of law and can be ignored at will by future presidents.
The expectation of some political analysts and lobbyists in Washington is that the majority Democrats in Congress will not pass an FY '09 federal budget by its official start date of Oct. 1; indeed, Congress seldom does these days. But in a presidential election year, the calculation is likely to be that another president and a new Congress will revisit the issue on more favorable terms. For that matter, considerable opinion can be found to suggest that Democrats will take that approach to the budget as a whole.
Though earmarks, local project funding funneled by lawmakers to constituents and their so-called ''pet projects,'' have been on the rise for decades and skyrocketed in recent years on the watch of GOP majorities in Congress, the Republican president couched his executive order in terms of fiscal responsibility.
Earmarks became a hotbed of controversy after the bribes of former Republican lobbying impresario Jack Abramoff - along with earmarked bridges, roads and ferries allegedly to nowhere - became public knowledge. They are legal under the Constitution, which gives Congress the power of the purse-strings; but they lack the force of law because they are included in committee reports that accompany the federal budget every year, but are not voted on as part of it. Despite the president's executive order, their fate is far from settled.
Earmarks fund a considerable number of essential Indian programs, according to Jacqueline Johnson, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians.
Many other interests rely on earmarks, meaning any measure by Bush to administratively cancel earmarks in the current fiscal year 2008 federal budget would have mobilized both Republicans and Democrats against it - especially those with a seat to defend in the upcoming November elections.
NMAI appoints new board members
At its first sessions for 2008, the National Museum of the American Indian board of trustees seated eight new board members, reviewed current operations at the museum, and took stock of its own oversight and support role.
Kevin Gover, executive director of NMAI since Dec. 3, 2007, took part in his first board meeting as director. He came out of it with a strong vote of confidence from newly installed Board Chairman Norbert Hill Jr.
The new board members are Manley Begay, Navajo; Howard Berlin; Roberta Leigh Conner, Umatilla; Cheryl Crazy Bull, Rosebud; Catherine S. Fowler; George Gund III; Eric Jolly, Cherokee; and Jose Zarate, Quechua.
Office of Indian Education gets a new director
Cherokee of Oklahoma citizen Cathie Carothers will direct the Office of Indian Education, a branch of the Department of Education's elementary and secondary education office.
Carothers began her federal career with the BIA, teaching learning-disabled students at an off-reservation boarding school. She has been with DOE since 1990 and has served as acting director at the Office of Indian Education since October 2007.
Ceremony seals economic arrangements between Crow Tribe and state of Montana
A Feb. 13 ceremony in the Mansfield Room of the U.S. Capitol building recognized a watershed economic agreement between the Crow Tribe and the state of Montana.
The tribe has adopted a secured transactions law consistent with the state's Uniform Commercial Code. Under its terms, the Office of the Secretary of State will file and administer financial statements filed under the new tribal law. Ultimately, the compact will reduce risk to lenders in on-reservation loans by enabling creditors, working through tribal court, to collect more readily against the debt and collateral of Crow citizens.
Uniform Commercial Codes, including all-important secured transactions provisions, have been a lynchpin of economic development in non-Indian communities. By protecting creditor rights, they create a ''legal infrastructure for many aspects of commerce'' (in the words of Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis essayist Paula Woessner), including cross-border contract standards among the states, as well as a comfort zone for lenders who know their business interests are legally protected under UCC terms. All 50 states have adopted a UCC developed by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws.
The NCCUSL has been a key participant in long-standing initiatives to develop a ''uniform, yet adaptable'' UCC for tribes. The effort began in Montana with the development of a tribal UCC developed by the Northern Cheyenne community group Native Action, under the leadership of Gail Small and with the assistance of the former First Nations Development Institute, among others. Council adoption of the Northern Cheyenne UCC was the last in a chain of events, beginning with a Federal Reserve Board decision that the reservation had been improperly ''redlined'' by lenders, that culminated in the opening of a bank on the reservation.
A reception at the Chickasaw Nation Pushmataha House followed the Capitol Hill ceremony.
FCC panel clarifies TV transition
A panel of Native communications professionals spelled out some Indian-specific highlights of the digital television transition, due to occur on Feb. 17, 2009. After that date, unconverted analog television sets won't work any longer because they won't receive digital broadcast signals.
Loriene Roy, president of the American Library Association, in an interview following a Jan. 31 Federal Communications Commission panel discussion, said that doesn't mean American Indians will have to replace their old sets. If they don't want to buy a new digital set, they can pay for a converter box. With some assistance hooking it up, their old analog set will receive digital broadcast signals.
The cost of the converter box is reasonable, but Roy and others emphasized that it's a one-time cost, not part of a repeating monthly bill as some misleading information on the transition has sought to imply.
Coupons to reduce the cost of the converter box, and information on assistance hooking it up, can be found at local libraries, Roy said. The FCC Web site on the so-called ''DTV transition'' can also be consulted at www.dtv.gov.