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Results in Brief

Initially, funds subject to the IPS process represented over 50 percent of
BLA's annual Operation of Indian Programs budget. However, in the
1980s the portion of BIA's budget subject to the process decreased signif-
icantly from earlier levels. These funding changes occurred during the
same period as changes in BIA's guidance for implementing the IPS pro-
cess. In GAO's view, Bia's current implementation guidance leaves
unclear what role tribes are to play. Current guidance focuses on
affording tribes an “opportunity” to participate in IPS program budget
formulation. In contrast, BIA'S IPS guidance and procedures used in 1978
suggested a more substantial role for tribes in shaping IPs program
budgets.

The level of tribal participation in the IPs process for 4 recent years differed for the five tribes GAO reviewed. When tribes participated, tribal and Bia officials concurred that, from among all programs subject to the IPS process, tribes contributed the most to the budget formulation for programs that they contracted with Bia pursuant to the Indian selfdetermination act. Tribes were unable, however, to influence the budget formulation for BIA area office-administered IPS programs or certain BIA agency office-administered IPS programs.

In addition to concerns about having a limited impact on the IPS portion of the BIA budget, tribes expressed a number of overall budgetary concerns. Key concerns were the inadequacy of the federal budget for Indian programs and the inability of tribes to affect budget decisions for programs involving BIA-identified trust responsibilities.

Principal Findings

The IPS Portion of BIA's
Budget

BIA's budget has averaged about $1 billion annually over the past 10
years. The Operation of Indian Programs budget component represents
the major share of this budget-averaging about $850 million a year
during this period. About 30 percent of this amount, or an average of
$275 million annually, was subject to the IPs process. IPS funds ranged
from $227 million in fiscal year 1982 to $333 million in fiscal year 1987.

Executive Summary

Tribal Role in IPS
Uncertain

BIA officials with whom Gao talked could not explain why Bia's current
guidance provides tribes with a lesser role than earlier guidance in set-
ting IPS process priorities and funding levels. While the process is gener-
ally being carried out consistent with BIA's current guidance, tribal
officials believe their involvement in the process is inconsequential.
Also, tribal levels of participation in the IPs process varied over the 4-
year period reviewed by Gao. For example, changes in two tribes' leader-
ship and political upheaval on the reservation curtailed or prevented
participation in some years.

Tribal Influence in
Budgeting Decisions Was
Limited

According to tribal and BIA agency officials, tribes exercised the greatest degree of control over budget formulation and the subsequent use of funds for those IPS programs that the tribes were administering through contracts with BIA. Between 19 percent and 79 percent of the individual fiscal year 1989 IPs budgets for the tribes GAO visited represented funding associated with contracted programs. This wide variance indicates that the five tribes have differed in their desire to contract with BIA for programs BiA is authorized to administer for the benefit of Indians.

With regard to the budget formulation for IPS programs that the tribes had not elected to contract, the tribes did not appear to have much effect on the budget formulation. In particular, at the area office level neither the tribes nor BIA agency officials were involved in the budget formulation for about 14 percent of the IPs budget, which represented programs that BIA area offices administer. Further, at the agency level, regardless of tribal preferences, BIA agency offices determined budget amounts for their overall office executive direction and administrative services—an IPS-designated program.

Tribal Concerns

Tribal officials told Gao that they were unable to significantly affect budgeting decisions for iPs programs. A more overriding concern was that the level of federal funding is inadequate for tribal needs. Tribes expressed particular concern about their lack of participation in formulating budgets for IPS funds retained by BIA area offices and their lack of success in influencing the budgets for BIA agency office executive direction and administrative services. BIA officials told GAO that budgeting for some IPs programs, including agency office executive direction and administrative services, was based on Bia's need to fulfill its trust responsibilities—the responsibilities BIA fulfills as trustee of Indian lands, natural resources, and other assets.

Recommendation to the Secretary of the Interior

GAO recommends that the Secretary of the Interior direct the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs to clarify the purpose of the IPs process and the nature of tribal involvement expected in carrying out the process, and communicate such clarification to the tribes. In clarifying the process, the Assistant Secretary should address the tribes' concerns about the programs subject to the process, such as the retention of funds by area and agency offices for executive direction and administrative services.

Agency Comments

While not commenting directly on GAO's recommendation, BIA expressed the belief that declining funding levels, which impair its ability to meet tribal requests for increased services, are a major cause of tribal discontent with the IPS process. BLA also stated its belief that Gao's report reflects a basic misunderstanding of the IPs process and how it works. GAO's report discusses in some detail tribal concerns about overall funding levels. Gao's report also discusses the extent to which tribes are unclear as to the purpose being served by the IPs process, the nature of tribal involvement expected by Bia, and the results to be achieved. Bia's comments are contained in appendix I.

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