GAO Report on Ongoing Systemic Challenges with Interior’s Bureau of Indian Education

April 26, 2015 Comments Off on GAO Report on Ongoing Systemic Challenges with Interior’s Bureau of Indian Education

The Washington Post recently published an article on a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office that found mismanagement, staffing problems, and inconsistent financial accounting in the Bureau of Indian Education (“BIE”). The BIE was created about thirteen years ago (it had formerly operated under Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs). The agency has responsibility for operating, funding, and overseeing schools on or near tribal lands and has struggled since its formation to develop and implement an effective and efficient agency capable of fulfilling that mission. As a result, the approximately 185 schools that are operated or funded by BIE suffer from problems such as recently installed roofs that leak and drinking fountains with undrinkable water.

Although the challenge of overseeing Indian schools is formidable because of the rural and remote locations of many BIE schools, the problems with BIE and the consequences for the education of Indian children have continued despite White House initiatives to improve Indian education. As far back at the Clinton administration, U.S. presidents have sought to improve the educational opportunities and outcomes for American Indian children. Under Executive Order 13592 signed December 2011, President Obama established the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Educational Opportunities. See also here and here. Among other things, the Initiative calls for the U.S. Department of Education and BIE to work together to develop policies on Indian education and the implementation of government programs to improve Indian education.

In its 2014 Native Youth Report (published December 2014), the Initiative stated that:

[O]ver the last six years, the Administration has created new programs (in ED and BIE) to support building tribal sovereignty over education. BIE and ED entered a Memorandum of Agreement to improve two-way communications between the two agencies and address common issues affecting [American Indian / Alaska Native] students. In addition, ED increased the emphasis in its Title VII formula grants, on the need for school districts to provide culturally-relevant education for Indian students.

In pursuit of this policy, BIE has developed a “Blueprint for Reform” (see also here) and is currently engaged in tribal consultations, but it remains to be seen whether BIE can develop and implement a consistent, workable plan for fulfilling its mission. The “Consultation Booklet” for the current round of tribal consultations is available here.

James D. Griffith is an Associate Attorney with Mangum, Wall, Stoops & Warden, PLLC in Flagstaff, Arizona. Jim provides legal services in a variety of areas, including Indian and tribal law, education law, employment matters, and municipal law.


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