Testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Hearing on the President's Fiscal Year 2014 Budget for Tribal Programs

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Oral Testimony - Jefferson Keel, NCAI President

As President of the National Congress of American Indians, I want to thank you Chairman Cantwell, Vice Chairman Barrasso, and committee members for listening to the voices of tribal leaders from across the nation. NCAI represents tribal governments and since 1944 we have fought termination and efforts to curtail our sovereign status. As we continue to fight to preserve treaty rights and our tribal ways of life, we urge you to continue to be guided by the solemn agreements made between our ancestors and to take our current pleas to heart. As Congress develops the FY 2014 budget, we call on you to make investments in programs that fund trust and treaty obligations, support tribal self-determination, and promote economic recovery in Indian Country.

We have compiled specific recommendations in our written testimony that addresses many programs in the federal budget. I want to share with you the very dangerous threats to Indian self-determination, tribal economies, and well-being due to the reductions from the current sequester and if the FY 14 appropriations bills don’t address some of those impacts. This Committee knows well, but I must reiterate the point, that the sequester reductions and other cuts to tribal programs undermine Indian treaty rights and obligations – treaties which were ratified under the Constitution and considered the “supreme law of the land.” 

Tribes deliver all the range of services that other governments provide. Federal funds provide much-needed investments in tribal physical, human, and environmental capital. For many tribes, a majority of tribal governmental services is financed by federal sources. Tribes lack parity in tax authority to raise revenue to deliver services.  If federal funding is reduced sharply for state and local governments, they may choose between increasing their own taxes and spending for basic services or allowing their services to take the financial hit. Half of state and local government revenue is from their own taxes, while a quarter is federal. On the other hand, up to 60 and 80 percent of the revenue for tribal governmental services comes from federal sources.

Not only will reductions to our base programs in TPA, IHS, or caps on contract support costs violate the trust responsibility to tribes, but it will hurt the regional economies in which tribes are major players.  Economists show that federal funds to tribes represent "high powered" spending when they enter our local economies, and provide a relatively large economic impact. In Oklahoma, 38 tribal nations have a $10.8 billion impact on the state every year, supporting an estimated 87,000 jobs, or five percent of all jobs in the state. Interrupting tribal revenue flow will increase unemployment for the region.  Federal cuts disproportionately impact Indian Country. Tribal nations are well prepared to take on additional responsibilities for the management of their resources, but need the United States to seek to fulfill its trust responsibilities in order to do so.

Some of the Administration proposals we oppose include the elimination of the Housing Improvement Program and Indian school replacement funding; proposals that we support include the Carcieri fix, apparent increases for BIA natural resources, which we have been requesting for a long time, investments in tribal public safety in BIA and DOJ, and increase for tribal courts, which is a good first step but is far below the amount needed, especially with the historic passage of VAWA. We have many more recommendations in the FY14 Indian Country budget request, which we request to be included in the record.

Another major issue is contract support costs: NCAI opposes the Administration’s unilateral proposal to fundamentally alter the nature of tribal self-governance by implementing individual statutory tribal caps on the payment of contract support costs. This funding is essential to the operation of contracted federal programs administered under federally issued indirect cost rate agreements. No change of such a fundamental character should be implemented until there has been a thorough consultation and study process jointly undertaken by the Indian Health Service (IHS), the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and tribal leaders, informed by a joint technical working group and coordinated through NCAI. Such a consultation process must be scheduled to permit opportunity for full tribal participation. While NCAI believes that overall caps on contract support costs should be eliminated, at the very least Congress should maintain in FY14 and FY15 the status quo statutory language enacted in FY13 so that tribally-developed changes in contract support cost funding mechanisms, if any, can be included in the FY16 Budget.

Again, reductions to tribal trust obligations – public safety, education, health care, social services, and tribal governmental services – are reductions to “high powered” spending for local economies, which will impede economic recovery in addition to causing increased poverty and hardship for Indian Country. The stakes are high for tribal governmental services and programs in the federal budget, only some of which are highlighted here, but trust obligations should be protected from further reductions. Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to working with you to ensure that the agreements made between our forefathers are honored in the federal budget.