BIA Budget

Examining the President's Fiscal Year 2024 Budget Request for the Bureau of Indian Affairs


May 25, 2023

Good morning, Chair Hageman, Ranking Member Leger Fernández and members of the Subcommittee. Thank you for the opportunity to testify regarding the Fiscal Year 2024 President’s Budget Request for Indian Affairs.

The President’s 2024 budget for Indian Affairs is $4.7 billion – this total includes funding for all of Indian Affairs which includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), the Bureau of Trust Funds Administration (BTFA) and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs (AS-IA), as well as proposed mandatory reclassifications for contract support costs and 105(l) Tribal leases. As the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, I oversee the program offices within the BIA, the BIE, the BTFA and additional programmatic functions within the immediate AS- IA Office.

Recent Accomplishments

Indian Affairs is leading improvements in education, supporting economic development, improving law enforcement programs, and helping Tribes manage climate change through resiliency and adaptation, among many other policy initiatives. I want to pause and reflect on our remarkable and collective work accomplished over the past year.

Indian Affairs has expanded the use of the Buy Indian Act to bring support to Indian Economic Enterprises. In Fiscal Year 2022, nearly $420 million in spending went to Native-owned businesses, which represents 72% of all of Indian Affairs’ purchasing power.

We are focusing on retention and recruitment. Hiring continues to be a challenge in technical fields, and we are looking at all levers we have available to improve retention and recruitment. In the area of law enforcement, the BIA Office of Justice Services team is working closely with the Indian Affairs Office of Human Capital on several strategies to support recruitment and retention. The foremost strategy is a pay parity initiative which will bring BIA law enforcement pay levels in line with other Federal law enforcement, this change would result in up to an additional $30,000 annually for BIA law enforcement officers. We are currently in the process of converting current staff to the new pay levels and openings for new vacancies are being advertised at this higher pay rate. Our team is also meeting on weekly basis to ensure the hiring process and background checks move as quickly as possible. BIE also continues its focus on teacher and counselor pay parity to attract and retain key staff at all BIE-funded schools.

The Missing and Murdered Unit continues to collect and review unsolved cases involving Missing and Murdered American Indian/Alaska Native People; prioritize and assign cases for investigation; coordinate investigation and search & recovery resources within Indian Country; and liaison with Tribal, state, and Federal law enforcement agencies on Missing and Murdered Indigenous People related issues. Since its creation in 2021, the MMU has investigated 735 missing and murdered persons cases, solved, or closed 264 missing persons cases, and solved 8 murder cases.

The Tiwahe Initiative is working on expanding to new sites. Indian Affairs worked with existing Tiwahe sites to develop a framework for selecting new Tiwahe sites, and then conducted consultation with Tribes on the framework. Thirty-five (35) Tribes applied for inclusion in the Tiwahe Demonstration Project. We recently announced the selection of two new Tiwahe sites from this process, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in Montana and the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah. Additionally, we provided $100,000 in one time funding to 10 other Tribes that applied so they can implement programs that were included in their Tiwahe proposal or to participate in the Tiwahe incubator to perform a needs assessment and develop a Tiwahe plan.

Indian Affairs is leading the investigation   into   the   Federal   Indian   Boarding   School system. Spotlighting this part of American history is needed for Indian Country and the United States to heal and move forward together. BTFA is the lead organization for research on this initiative. Our initial investigation identified marked or unmarked burial sites at approximately 53 different schools across the system. As the investigation continues, we expect the number of identified burial sites to increase.

Interior continues to be a government-wide leader in shaping Tribal consultation policy and facilitating Tribal input into policy development and program implementation. At the forefront of this effort is the White House Council on Native American Affairs. The Council has played a critical role in coordinating across agencies and holding government-wide consultation to facilitate implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Inflation Reduction Act and other critical policies.

To support teachers and administrators, the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) is investing in BIE’s Strategic Transformation of Education Program (STEP) providing professional development, upgraded technology, and enhancing our ability to provide culturally relevant education across BIE. BIE is also developing a BIE Principal’s Leadership Academy to deliver professional development to school leaders, focus on educational outcome improvements, support retention of key administrators and develop our future leaders. Furthermore, BIE is implementing Behavioral Health and Wellness Programs serving BIE students, staff, and communities with mental health and wellness support. BIE school safety and security improvements continue to be a priority with targeted funding and hiring plans that support school leaders. BIE is also moving forward on clean energy goals – including Clean School Bus and School Replacement Construction initiatives that not only reduce our carbon footprint but support economic development and cleaner energy future for the students and communities we serve.

Bureau of Indian Affairs and Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs

The mission of the BIA is to enhance the quality of life, promote economic opportunity, and carry out the Federal responsibility to protect and improve the trust assets of American Indians, Indian Tribes, and Alaska Natives. The request for BIA and the AS-IA Office is $3.0 billion in current appropriations. Within this total, the budget includes $431.4 million for Contract Support Costs and $82.5 million for Payments for Tribal Leases, which are requested as current mandatory funding to ensure we can continue to make these critical payments and meet other trust obligations. The 2024 budget supports an all-of government approach to addressing Federal responsibilities and Tribal needs in Indian Country. The White House Council on Native American Affairs, in coordination with Indian Affairs bureaus, supports collaboration on this work across Federal agencies. We are also looking to leverage external resources. The budget includes additional funding to build out an Office of Strategic Partnerships which can leverage philanthropic funding to build on Federal resources for program delivery for Indian Country.

Operation of Indian Programs

The 2024 budget for the Operation of Indian Programs account is $2.3 billion. The 2024 budget continues to focus on the priorities put forward in our 2023 budget of increasing sovereignty over Tribal lands, advancing economic opportunities, ensuring public safety, and responding to climate change.

Protect and Support Safe Tribal Communities

BIA’s Office of Justice Services (OJS) funds law enforcement, corrections, and court services to support safe Tribal communities. The 2024 budget includes $641.8 million for Public Safety and Justice (PS&J) operations, an increase of $62.1 million above the 2023 enacted level. Operational funding supports the expanding Tribal needs in policing, detention, and Tribal courts, including those resulting from the McGirt v. Oklahoma Supreme Court decision.

The budget includes a $33.5 million program increase to Criminal Investigations and Police Services, specifically targeted to increase the number of officers and investigators on the ground in Indian Country. A program increase of $2.0 million is also requested to enhance functions within the OJS Professional Standards Directorate, including recruitment and retention initiatives, development and evaluation of law enforcement policies, program reviews, and training. The 2024 budget includes $16.5 million to address the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People. The Missing and Murdered Unit engages in cross-departmental and interagency collaboration to identify gaps in information sharing and data collection to investigate these cases more effectively.

As part of a proposed expansion to the Tiwahe Initiative, the budget includes $1.9 million for the Office of Tribal Justice Support to provide technical assistance to Tribes looking to develop and operate Healing to Wellness courts. These courts serve as alternatives to incarceration and provide a culturally appropriate forum to support those within the criminal justice system by assisting in addressing underlying behavioral health and substance abuse issues.

Promote Tribal Self-Determination

The 2024 budget provides $444.4 million for programs that support Tribal government activities. The budget includes $240.8 million for compact activities for self-governance Tribes, enabling Tribes to plan, conduct, consolidate, and administer programs, services, functions, and activities for Tribal citizens, according to priorities established by their Tribal governments. The budget includes $86.2 million to support Consolidated Tribal Government Programs for Tribes operating under P.L. 93-638 contracts, giving approximately 275 Tribes the flexibility to combine and manage contracted programs and grants that are similar or compatible to simplify contracting.

The Small Tribes Supplement program helps eligible Tribes expand and sustain their Tribal governance. The 2024 budget funds the program at $23.0 million—$16 million above 2023 enacted. This level of funding is estimated to reach a funding threshold of $300,000 for the Tribes in this category. The budget requests an additional $2.0 million to hire additional Awarding Officials (AOs) and support staff at regional BIA field sites in the regions to address the growing number of complex contracts that involve multiple and diverse programs. The BIA has more than 9,500 open Title I, ISDEAA contracts being administered throughout the Nation. Increased personnel will also help ensure timely Tribal payments, which is an area that has been and continues to be reviewed by the Government Accountability Office.

Strengthen Tribal Communities

As part of the government-wide efforts to strengthen Tribal communities, the budget includes $205.4 million, an increase of $38.4 million above 2023 enacted, in Human Services funding to support Indian families. This amount includes $79.5 million for Social Services, which will support expanded implementation of the Indian Child Protection and Family Violence Prevention Act. The Act seeks to bolster child protection and ensure better coordination between child welfare and domestic violence programs in Indian Country. In addition, the budget includes increases of $26.7 million to expand the Tiwahe Initiative through several Human Services programs.

Indian Affairs is uniquely positioned to assist in the effort to recover the histories of Federal Indian boarding schools. The 2024 budget includes $7.0 million for the Secretary’s Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative (BSI) and its comprehensive review of Federal boarding school policies. This funding will continue to implement recommendations laid out in the May 2022 Federal Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report, including continued historical research and documentation, and work to identify and protect the remains of those identified.

Advance Indian Trust Ownership and Improve Indian Trust-related Information

The 2024 budget includes a total of $201.2 million for the Trust Real Estate Services activity, an increase of $42.2 million. Also included is an appropriations language proposal to strengthen Tribal homelands through the “Carcieri Fix,” which will ensure all Federally-recognized Tribes may place land into trust status.

The Trust Real Estate Services activity implements strategies to advance Indian trust ownership and improve Indian trust-related information. The 2024 budget proposes $201.2 million for real estate services programs and supports the processing of Indian trust-related documents, such as land title and records and geospatial data, to support land and water resources use, energy development, and protection and restoration of ecosystems and important lands. An additional $1.9 million supports the new Office of Indigenous Communication and Technology to support Tribal efforts to increase broadband access and licensing for broadband spectrum frequencies, and to advance other critical infrastructure investments. The BIA requested increase of $2 million supports additional Realty staff at Trust field locations to manage increased infrastructure development document processing to ensure leasing, rights-of-way, and other approval processes are completed timely.

The budget also proposes to shift funding for the DOI Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA) Probate Hearings Division to BIA from the Bureau of Trust Funds Administration. This transfer will align OHA’s Probate Hearings Division function with BIA’s Probate Real Estate function, allowing the Department to more efficiently process probate cases to completion by improving coordination between BIA and OHA.

BIA requests $30.5 million, a $22.5 million increase above 2023 enacted, for the Indian Land Consolidation Program (ILCP), which purchases fractional interests from willing individual Indian landowners and conveys those interests to the Tribe with jurisdiction. ILCP funding recognizes the ongoing need to continue to address fractionation on Indian lands while also focusing support on Tribes’ plans for and adaptation to climate change. This program is especially important since the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (LBBP), established as part of the Cobell Settlement, ended in November 2022. The ICLP has incorporated lessons learned from the LBBP and the previous ILCP in BIA to ensure effective program implementation.

The budget includes $12.0 million for the creation of a new Tribal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) land acquisition program. During LWCF listening sessions held in 2022, one of the top priorities Tribes identified was direct access to LWCF funding for conservation and recreation LWCF projects without the existing program requirements to partner with or apply through States. BIA will primarily provide funding to Tribes to acquire lands or easements for the purposes of protecting and conserving natural resource areas that may also be of cultural importance to the Tribe or have significant recreational benefits for Tribal communities, consistent with the purposes of LWCF funding. BIA plans to hold formal Tribal consultation on the establishment and eligibility criteria of the program. This new program will further enhance the ability of Tribes to address the climate crisis, support Tribal sovereignty and self-determination, and provide another important tool to support Tribal co-stewardship.

Invest in Climate Resilience, Natural Resource Management and Co-Stewardship

The budget includes $385.9 million, a $52.7 million increase over 2023 enacted, for critical trust natural resources activities and investing in climate resilience and environmental justice.

BIA requests $48.0 million for the Tribal Climate Resilience program. This program includes the Tribal Climate Adaptation Grant program, which is funded at $24.8 million to better assess and meet Tribal climate adaptation needs, and the Climate Relocation Grant program, which is funded at $15.5 million, $6 million more than the 2023 enacted amount. The Tribal Climate Resilience program also includes $7.8 million for Tribal youth corps programs, an important jobs initiative to tackle climate change on the ground, ensure a living wage, and provide skills and a pathway to employment.

With a focused investment in the deployment of clean energy in Tribal communities, the budget includes $47.7 million for Energy and Minerals activities. Indian Affairs views renewable energy as one of many tools available to American Indians and Alaska Natives to create sustainable economies on Indian land.

The 2024 budget proposes to shift the Office of Subsistence Management (OSM) to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. OSM provides administrative support to the Federal Subsistence Board and the Federal Subsistence Regional Advisory Councils, in addition to supporting the subsistence regulatory process and the Fisheries Resource Monitoring program. Shifting OSM will maintain important expertise while facilitating expanded Tribal co-management partnerships and the incorporation of indigenous knowledge into subsistence management.

The BIA budget further invests in the health and safety of Tribal communities. BIA requests $38.8 million for the Environmental Quality Projects program, an increase of $10.9 million over 2023 enacted, which includes funding to continue remediation of the former Tuba City Dump Superfund site, which continues to threaten the drinking water of the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe.

Advance Economic Opportunities

The 2024 budget funds the Community and Economic Development activity at $77.6 million, a $46.4 million increase above 2023 enacted levels, to advance economic opportunities in Indian Country. Within the total funding provided, Job Placement and Training is funded at $15.8 million and includes an additional $2.0 million for job training programs focusing on clean energy development that is a complementary investment to the Tribal Electrification funding provided in the Inflation Reduction Act. Economic Development projects are funded at $50.7 million and include a request for an additional $27.5 million investment in Native language revitalization, which is crucial to preserve endangered languages, promote self-determination, and strengthen Tribal communities. BIA also requests a $5.0 million increase to establish an economic development component of the Tiwahe Initiative, which will provide funding directly to Tribal governments to design and operate comprehensive and integrated economic and community development programs.

The 2024 budget request for the Indian Guaranteed Loan Program is $15.5 million, which will guarantee or insure $202.3 million in loan principal to support Indian economic development across Indian Country. This includes an additional $1 million for loan subsidies and $0.5 million for staffing to increase technical assistance. By strengthening the economic base of Tribal communities, the Tribal governments near those businesses progress toward greater self-determination.

Land and Water Claims Settlements

Tribal land and water rights settlements ensure that Tribes have access to land and water to meet domestic, economic, and cultural needs. The 2024 budget proposes $976,000 for the Settlements account. The 2024 funding request covers the continuing implementation of the White Earth Reservation Land Settlement Act (Public Law 99–264) and Truckee River Operating Agreement (Public Law 101–618). The Budget also proposes $2.8 billion in new mandatory funding over 10 years for Tribal water rights settlements requirements, including $2.5 billion to cover the costs of enacted and future settlements and $340 million for ongoing costs associated with enacted settlements managed by the Bureau of Reclamation.

Infrastructure Investment

BIA is responsible for more than 29,000 miles of paved, gravel and earth-surface roads and more than 1,000 bridges. Maintaining these roads is critical to public safety, education and economic development purposes. The FY 2024 budget includes $51.3 million for road maintenance, an increase of $12.1 million to support pavement and gravel maintenance, remedial work on improved earthen roads, bridge maintenance, and snow and ice control.

The 2024 budget includes $199.8 million for Construction activities, a $46.5 million increase from the 2023 enacted level. The funding includes an increase of $23.8 million for replacement and deferred maintenance projects to address needs at PS&J facilities, particularly detention centers. It also includes a $4.6 million increase for the irrigation rehabilitation program, and additional land an additional $10.3 million for Dam maintenance. BIA is responsible for 141 high- or significant- hazard dams on 42 Indian reservations. The Construction program also includes a $6.8 million increase to support the Administration’s governmentwide goal to accelerate the use of zero- emission vehicles to enable a clean transportation future.

Capacity Building

The budget includes critical staff capacity building across our programs. The needs range from an increase for human capital capabilities to supporting the White House Council on Native American Affairs in its critical role coordinating the Federal Government’s engagement with Tribal communities, to providing adequate staffing for the 105(l) Tribal lease program which is on a path to have over 200 leases in place in FY 2023. Adequate staffing is critical to ensuring timely and effective delivery to the Tribal nations we serve.

Bureau of Indian Education

The FY 2024 budget request for BIE programs within the Department totals $1.6 billion. The Budget includes key investments to strengthen BIE’s autonomy as a Federal agency and improve local services for Tribally controlled and bureau-operated schools while also advancing equity for historically underserved Tribal communities.

Operation of Indian Education Programs

The 2024 budget provides $1.2 billion for Operation of Indian Education Programs. The core mission of BIE is to support Bureau Operated and Tribally Controlled schools and administer grants to Tribal institutions of higher education.

The request includes $925.5 million for operating the entire BIE elementary and secondary school system—169 elementary and secondary schools, and 14 dormitories—by providing educational services to approximately 45,000 students in 23 States. Funds support the basic and supplemental education programs at BIE-funded schools, student transportation, facility operations, and maintenance. The budget advances sovereignty in education by proposing a provision allowing for the expansion of more than one grade at BIE-funded schools with a K–2 or K–4 structure. Currently, K-4 schools are only allowed to expand by one grade. This proposal will allow BIE to expand educational services to communities already being served.

The 2024 request includes targeted funding to improve Indian student academic outcomes, address maintenance needs, support expanded preschool and Native language programs, and provide pay parity for Tribal teachers while fully funding projected Tribal Grant Support Costs. The Budget provides $508.7 million, a $27.0 million increase over 2023 enacted, for Indian School Equalization Program funds to enhance opportunities and outcomes in the classroom, provide improved instructional services, and support increased teacher quality, recruitment, and retention. The request level of $22.1 million, including a $500,000 program increase, for Education Program Enhancements supports professional development for teachers, advances the quality of in- classroom instruction, and incorporates improved Native language and culture programs in classrooms. Early Child and Family Development funding of $26.1 million enables BIE to provide preschool opportunities at BIE-funded schools.

For Facilities Operations and Maintenance, BIE requests $160 million, a $5.6 million increase over the 2023 enacted amount, and includes investments to keep pace with operational cost increases and support the timely maintenance and replacement of equipment at BIE schools. The Budget also includes $22.6 million, including a $2.0 million program increase, for the Johnson-O’Malley program, which is authorized to support the individualized educational needs of eligible Indian students enrolled in public schools and nonsectarian private schools.

The Budget continues to invest in activities that promote educational self-determination for Tribal communities and includes $98.7 million for Tribal Grant Support Costs for Tribes that choose to operate BIE-funded schools. This level of funding supports 100 percent of the estimated requirement. The request includes $189.6 million for Postsecondary Programs, a $6.0 million increase over 2023 enacted. The 2024 budget continues recognition of the critical role Tribal postsecondary institutions have in empowering Indian students and promoting equity for Tribal communities. These institutions are on or near reservations; they directly serve Tribal communities with culturally relevant education and career pathways in a supportive environment. Postsecondary education of Tribal members remains an essential component in the economic development of many Tribes.

The proposed budget will provide $34.9 million, including a $2.0 million program increase, for BIE operated Haskell Indian Nations University and Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute; $87.9 million for grants to 29 Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs); and $10.7 million for grants for two Tribal Technical Colleges, as well as $43.4 million for the Scholarships and Adult Education program to improve educational opportunities and serve a larger population of qualified Native American students.

Education Management

The Budget includes $79.3 million, an increase of $12.1 million over 2023 enacted, for education management and information technology (IT) to optimize learning opportunities for students of all ages. Education Program Management (EPM) funding supports ongoing improvements in high- priority functional areas, including acquisition, school safety and security, behavioral and mental health support, performance tracking, and technical support to schools in the field. Other management activities include data collection, analysis, and reporting; financial and budget functions; oversight and coordination of major facility repairs; and management of grant applications. BIE IT includes the Native American Student Information System, wide area network infrastructure, and general support systems used by BIE-funded schools.

The budget proposes $33.7 million, an increase of $5.8 million over the 2023 enacted level, for Education IT to support the ongoing costs of distance learning and enhanced classroom technology. BIE continues to collaborate with Tribes and communities to alleviate ongoing strains imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic on BIE students and their families, teachers, administrators, and other staff members in K–12 schools and at TCUs. The 2024 Budget will enable BIE to leverage ongoing infrastructure investments in new technology and operational capabilities at BIE-funded schools, including the new Education Learning Management System, by supporting comprehensive online delivery of educational courses to students and professional development opportunities for teachers.

EPM initiatives in 2024 include the continued implementation of a School Operations Office of Self-Determination to develop Tribal capacity and promote maximum Indian participation in educational programs and services; and BIE’s Social Emotional Learning project to develop a national curriculum to support behavioral health and wellness programs at BIE-funded schools. The funding in 2024 will also allow EPM to calculate and report on methodologies for maximizing the benefits to underserved communities.

Education Construction

The 2024 Budget includes $416.2 million, an increase of $148.3 million over 2023 enacted, in annual funding for Education Construction to replace and repair school facilities and address deferred maintenance needs at campuses across the BIE school system. This funding includes substantial investments to address the climate crisis with more sustainable BIE infrastructure. Whenever feasible, BIE facilities projects incorporate techniques to reduce energy and water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions and to prepare the facilities for the predicted effects of climate change.

The proposed $252.5 million for Replacement School Construction, a $136.0 million increase over the 2023 enacted amount, and $23.9 million for Replacement Facility Construction are critical to ensuring that all Native students can develop in an environment conducive to quality educational achievement. With the Replacement School Construction, Replacement Facility Construction, and Great American Outdoors Act (Public Law 116–152) funding anticipated through 2024, BIE expects to support planning, design, and construction work at nine BIE schools; final allocations are pending completion of the design phase and refined cost estimates for each school. Appropriate housing is a key element for educational staffing, especially at schools in remote locations. An additional $139.8 million is included for other housing and facilities repair programs, including a $9.7 million program increase for facilities improvement and repair and a $2.5 million increase for new/replacement employee housing.

Bureau of Trust Funds Administration

The FY 2024 budget includes $109.1 million to support BTFA’s execution of Federal trust responsibilities to American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes, individuals, and communities. The request is $2.2 million below the FY 2023 enacted reflecting the proposed transfer of funding supporting probate related work in the Office of Hearings and Appeals from BTFA to BIA. The budget promotes investments in programs to ensure the Department is meeting its financial management trust obligations. It also includes a targeted increase for staffing needs to improve customer service and advance the Department’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Initiative.

I strongly encourage the Congress to accept the BTFA organizational structure in the FY 2024 appropriations bill. BTFA provides a unique Federal trust function that is appropriately separate from the responsibilities of the BIA. Approving this structure will strengthen the organization’s ability to focus on its core mission responsibilities and on additional complex and high-visibility projects. Specifically, BTFA is leading the research effort on the Secretary’s Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative and has the lead on implementing an Electronic Records Management Program for all of Indian Affairs. In addition, improving government customer service is one pillar of the President’s Management Agenda. In that arena, BTFA is one of four High Impact Service Providers at DOI, and works extensively, along with other agencies, to improve services to our beneficiaries.

Concluding Statement

This FY 2024 budget continues to support the Administration’s commitment to honor trust responsibilities to Tribes and self-determination. The 2024 budget continues investments to empower Tribal communities, strengthen climate resilience, improve quality of life, create economic opportunities, increase focus on environmental quality and justice needs in Tribal communities, and preserve and foster cultural heritage. Interior’s programs maintain strong and productive government-to-government relationships with Tribes, helping to promote Tribal nation building and self-determination.

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