WASHINGTON (AP) – Federal officials appear to have violated ethics rules governing impartiality in awarding a contract to evaluate schools attended by tens of thousands of Native American students, a federal watchdog says.
The report comes as President Barack Obama makes high-profile promises to fix the schools, which are among the nation’s lowest performing and have been plagued by crumbling buildings needing $1 billion in repairs.
It is the latest to highlight problems in the management and oversight of the schools.
The Interior Department’s inspector general investigation concerned an $800,000-plus contract awarded early in Obama’s term to assess the schools’ management and student achievement. The main focus was Brian Drapeaux, who served as chief of staff of the department’s Bureau of Indian Education, when the contract was issued and later became acting director.
The initial contract had been awarded to Personal Group Inc., a South Dakota-based company, where Drapeaux had worked on separate occasions, including within 12 months of joining the Interior Department.
A department contract specialist raised conflict of interest concerns and canceled the contract and said the company, known as PerGroup, could not participate in the contract at any level and that all key decision makers should certify that there was no conflict of interest.
She alleged in 2011 that she had been removed from handling the contract because of her actions.
Nevertheless, the IG concluded, PerGroup was allowed to stay on the project as a subcontractor under another company and was responsible for 41 percent of the contractual work.
Keith Moore, who served as director of BIE until 2012, along with Drapeaux maintained a longstanding friendship with PerGroup, according to the inspector general.
The report said the two officials “appear to have acted in violation of federal ethics regulations governing impartiality ... and the use of public office for private gain.”
“Finally,” it said, “other BIE officials who knew of these conflicts of interest chose to ignore them during the procurement process.”
The IG said the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia had declined to prosecute the case but referred it back to the Interior Department for further action, which was taken on Sept. 30.
“This issue is considered resolved and no further action will be taken,” Jessica Kershaw, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department, said in an email. She said the department would not reveal the action because of privacy reasons.
Kershaw said the department did not adopt the contractor’s recommendations.
Drapeaux and Moore declined to comment. Officials from PerGoup did not respond to requests for comment.
Obama addressed the challenges facing Native American youth in a historic visit to an Indian reservation last summer and again at the White House summit this week.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has announced a series of steps to restructure the federal bureaucracy that oversees the schools and turn more control over tribes.
Just this week as part of the White House summit on Native Americans, Jewell reaffirmed the federal government's historic failures in connection with the schools, which goes back to the 19th century when many Native American children were forcibly assimilated in boarding schools away from their families. The government has a treaty and trust responsibility to run them, and about 40,000 students attend the more than 180 schools.
The IG report follows one by the Government Accountability Office that found the schools had millions in unaccounted for dollars, including money for special education.
The IG’s findings were posted initially online, but the IG’s office temporarily took the report down to make minor adjustments. It was reposted.
WASHINGTON – The Office of Special Trustee for American Indians is seeking nominations for individuals to serve on its advisory board. The board’s purpose, as defined in the 1994 American Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act, is to provide advice to the special trustee on all matters associated with the trust responsibilities overseen by the office.
“This board is an opportunity for OST to receive meaningful advice and prudent perspectives on trust management reforms at the Department of the Interior,” Special Trustee Vincent G. Logan said. “The Reform Act directed the special trustee to appoint leaders from academia and finance so that OST can maintain a beneficiary focus and deliver well-informed trust management services to individual Indian and tribal beneficiaries.”
Members will serve two-year terms without compensation. The board, as required by the Reform Act, is composed of five members representing trust fund account holders, including both tribal and Individual Indian Money accounts; two members with practical experience in trust fund and financial management; one member with practical experience in fiduciary investment management; and one member from academia with knowledge of general management of large organizations.
Nominations must include a resume or other documents demonstrating qualifications for at least one of the board member categories. Self-nominations will receive equal consideration.
Nominations must be submitted by Dec. 29 to the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians, Attn: Lee Frazier, Department of the Interior, located at 1849 C Street, NW, Mailstop 3256, Washington, D.C. 20240.
Additional details about the request for nominations can be found in the Federal Registry notice located at <a href="https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/11/28/2014-28139/request-for-nominations-to-serve-on-the-special-trustee-advisory-board" target="_blank">https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/11/28/2014-28139/request-for-nominations-to-serve-on-the-special-trustee-advisory-board</a>.
WASHINGTON – Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell delivered opening remarks at the sixth White House Tribal Nation’s Conference on Dec. 3, where she emphasized the Obama administration’s commitment to Indian Country, including self-determination and self-governance initiatives that are helping tribal nations to build a foundation for a successful and culturally vibrant future.
“All of the work we are undertaking in partnership with tribes–whether on education, tackling climate change, or upholding trust reforms and treaty obligations–is with an eye toward the health and prosperity of the next generation,” said Jewell, who also participated in panel discussions with tribal leaders on education and Native youth and climate change during the conference. “The White House Tribal Nations Conference is one piece of President Obama’s commitment to make meaningful and lasting progress in support of American Indians’ and Alaska Natives’ vision for a strong and successful future.”
The conference provides leaders from the 566 federally recognized tribes the opportunity to interact directly with President Obama, members of his cabinet and other federal policy-level officials, building on the president’s commitment to strengthen our government-to-government relationship with Indian Country and to improve the livelihood of Native Americans. President Obama held the first-ever conference and has ensured that it will be an enduring, annual conference by executive order.
During this year’s conference, Jewell discussed some of the progress made by the White House Council on Native American Affairs in advancing initiatives on educational reform, energy and economic development and climate change.
The council, which is chaired by Jewell and includes the heads of more than 20 federal departments and agencies, has convened four times since its inception in June 2013 and works to improve interagency coordination and expand efforts to leverage federal programs and resources available to tribal communities.
Under a council initiative, Jewell and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, after consultation with tribal leaders, issued a Blueprint for Reform in June 2014 to redesign the Bureau of Indian Education.
Building on the Blueprint’s recommendations, Jewell issued a secretarial order to begin restructuring BIE from solely a provider of education to a capacity-builder and education service-provider to tribes. The goal of this transformation is to give tribes the ability themselves to provide an academically rigorous and culturally appropriate education to their students, according to their needs.
“The heart of the matter is that no one cares more, or knows more about what’s right for young people, than their parents and their community,” said Jewell, who noted that the BIE recently awarded $1.2 million to tribes to promote tribal control of BIE-funded schools on their reservations.
Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin K. Washburn also participated in the Tribal Nation’s Conference where he joined panel sessions and reaffirmed the Obama Administration’s sacred duty to uphold federal trust responsibilities and help restore tribal homelands.
“Each of the Administration’s successes is progress for tribes because tribal self-determination and self-governance animate each of our programs,” said Assistant Secretary Washburn. “Our programs cannot fully succeed unless Indian tribal governments also succeed.”
He noted Jewell’s second secretarial order focused on Indian Country and the his department’s tribal trust responsibilities–underscoring the Department of Interior’s commitment to a new chapter in government-to-government relations. The order reaffirmed the DOI’s unique, historic responsibilities and provided guidance for each of Interior agencies to carry out trust obligations to tribes and individual Indian beneficiaries.
The DOI has been carrying out the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations a program designed to buy highly fractionated land interests from willing American Indian sellers at fair market value and transfer consolidated titles to tribal governments for the beneficial use of their communities.
In the last 12 months, the program has made $754 million in offers to more than 44,000 individual landowners and restored the equivalent of more than 475,000 acres to tribes. The DOI recently announced 21 additional locations where the program will begin implementation, bringing the total number of locations actively engaged in the Buy-Back Program to 42. That total represents 83 percent of all outstanding fractionated ownership interests.
Since assuming her role at Interior, Jewell has visited more than 20 tribal communities and half a dozen Bureau of Indian Education schools. Jewell also joined President Obama and the first lady on their historic visit to Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation earlier this year.
WARNER, Okla. –The Cherokee Nation recently donated $25,000 to the Warner officials for the construction of a splash pad for local children to enjoy in the summer months.
“Creating a splash pad in Warner will be a great asset to the community and the families who live there,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “I’m proud we can offer this kind of project to Warner and increase the community’s recreational opportunities. I know it will be a popular space for families and small children during the summer.”
The splash pad will be built in Rogers Park and is projected to be open next summer. CN’s donated money came from the administration’s annual donations and contributions budget.
“Our main concern was having a fun and safe place for our children to be able to go during the summer. This splash pad, located in the park, will more than service that purpose for us,” said Warner Mayor Jack Tatum. “We appreciate the Cherokee Nation for all they’ve done to help us reach that goal.”
DALLAS – The Inter Tribal Environmental Council of the Cherokee Nation was recently awarded $205,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as part of its General Assistance Program.
The funds will be used to administer the environmental program and develop multimedia programs, which address environmental issues. The tribe will also be required to attend environmentally related training and conduct community outreach.
According to an EPA press release, the GAP’s purpose is to support the growth of core tribal environmental protection programs.
In 1992, Congress passed the Indian Environmental General Assistance Program Act that authorizes the EPA to provide GAP grants to tribal groups and federally recognized tribes. These grants are available for establishing environmental protection programs in Indian country, implementing solid, hazardous waste programs on tribal lands and more.
For more information, call 214-665-2200 or email <a href="mailto: email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – On Dec. 10, Cherokee Nation Deputy Attorney General Sara Hill was sworn in as a tribal special assistant United States attorney, which will allow her to prosecute criminal cases occurring on Indian land in federal court.
“Indian Country can present challenges for prosecution. Certain crimes that are committed on Indian Country in the Cherokee Nation are prosecuted in tribal court, and others must be prosecuted by the United States,” Hill said. “I am honored that the United States and the Cherokee Nation have given me an opportunity to serve in this capacity, and hopefully the endeavor leads to safer communities.”
Hill, who received notification of the appointment in November after an extensive background check, will serve a three-year term as a special assistant United States attorney.
Northern District of Oklahoma United States Attorney Danny Williams Sr., who Hill received the oath of office from, said the tribal special assistant United States attorney would help staff and prosecute more cases.
Hill will continue representing the CN Office of the Attorney General in tribal courts in addition to her new appointment. She joined the tribe’s Attorney General’s Office 10 years ago after earning her law degree from the University of Tulsa.
“Our hopes for it is because Indian Country prosecutions are complicated, everyone has to really be on the same page all the time or else it’s easy for something to fall through the cracks, and information we have at the Cherokee Nation, they may not have at the U.S. attorney’s office, and so it helps improve the communication between all the agencies, and it helps ensure that the ball doesn’t get dropped, that it’s much more seamless,” Hill said.
Attorney General of the Osage Nation Jeff Jones was also sworn in as a tribal special assistant United States Attorney. The two will work alongside other prosecutors in the office’s Indian Country Prosecution Unit to improve public safety in tribal communities.
“We are extremely proud of Sara Hill,” CN Attorney General Todd Hembree said. “I’ve known for quite some time that she is an exceptional attorney and is extremely trustworthy on any assignment. It gives me great pride to know that the United States government feels the same way.”
The U.S. Constitution, treaties, federal statutes, executive orders and court decisions have established and defined the unique legal and political relationship between the United States and Indian tribes. Federal laws vest the U.S. Department of Justice with primary jurisdiction over most felonies that occur on Indian lands in most states.
“There are other tribal special assistant attorneys in the United States, but there have never been any in Oklahoma before, so it’s really exciting to be able to embark on something that’s kind of new in Oklahoma,” Hill said.