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Monday, February 06, 2012

Another Blast From The Past, Circa 2008

As I suspected, the Channel 11 News Report, which has been picked up by Indian Country publications around the country, incorrectly characterized our Tribal governments as perpetrators rather than the victims of mismanagement. The thrust of the report is that the BIA and the IRRP program mismanaged the funds, failed to fill technical positions despite the availability of funds and failed to provide the oversight required as the fiduciary agency. As a result, needed Tribal infrastructure has not been built. I will call and get details on the $14 M fiasco but, I suspect, it wasn’t a single Village, although it was characterized as such. Channel 11’s presentation of the finding was misleading. Channel 11 states... “In the federal audit- of $32 million D.O.T. dollars handed out to Alaska Native communities every year only $3 to 4 million worth of road projects were actually verified as completed.” ...While the Report states “While 32 million in program funding was distributed to approximately 230 Alaska Native communities each year, only about $3 to $4 Million in road projects had any physical oversight or verification of work completed.” The first implies that only 3 or 4 million were completed. That is NOT true; the Report says that there was oversight provided on $3 or $4 Million dollars worth of projects meaning that we DO NOT KNOW the status of the other $28 M worth of projects. The point being NOT that $28 M worth of projects was mismanaged or incomplete, but that the OVERSIGHT over $28 M in projects was not provided. This is a VERY IMPORTANT difference. The Channel 11 spin implies that there is $28 M in failed projects and that is not what the report says. One of the specific instances cited in the report involves a $2 M unauthorized road project where the BIA itself was responsible for the directing that unauthorized use not the Tribe. The most egregious error in the Channel 11 report, however, is the following statement: “The letter from the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of the Interior to Secretary Ken Salazar warns; give Alaska Native tribal governments money and they will likely misuse it.” [Emphasis added] NOWHERE in the IG’s transmittal letter to Secretary Salazar was this stated. This conclusion was fabricated by Ms Gusty or her staff. Finally, the Report is, itself, not the source documentation and raises as many questions as it answers. 1. The $14 M conversion of funds to support tourism is vague. How exactly were those funds expended? Was it on a related road project or was it spent on non-transportation services? If it was the former, then there is some mitigation of value and benefit; if not, then the misuse is even more eggregious; 2. The “overtime” may have been a result of severe winter weather conditions required airport/road maintenance and the absence of qualified personnel. It may have been associated with emergency erosion or flooding. Again, there is insufficient data to judge. It is neither surprising nor shocking to me that the bureaucrats in charge of the program were unable to explain the circumstances. Having said all this, there appear to be at least one real instance of misuse/fraud on the local level; namely, the $500,000 used to purchase a restaurant/bar. Mismanagement, including failure to complete timely reports, is also doubtless rife throughout the villages. This speaks to the issue of capacity-building and local project management support. Elstun W. Lauesen,

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