High Risk Indian Programs: Progress and Efforts in Addressing GAO’s Recommendations
As highlighted in the GAO reports, much work remains, but I am glad to update this Committee on progress made since I last testified in May. A priority as BIE Director includes addressing the GAO recommendations and the issues highlighted head on. As I previously testified, the BIE team views the GAO’s reports as a constructive tool to improve our agency and help the students we are committed to serve. As such, I will update you on headway made in the following areas:
As Director, I am committed to addressing these outstanding items. To that end, I am working with our senior leadership team within BIE as well as with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, the Secretary’s Office, and our colleagues at GAO to ensure BIE comprehensively addresses each outstanding recommendation as expeditiously and effectively as possible. We are appreciative of the assistance and collaboration offered by GAO. In recent months, the BIE, through the support of the Department, has increased its direct communication with GAO, which has enhanced BIE’s ability to efficiently address outstanding recommendations. Through in-person meetings and follow-up teleconferences, GAO has provided BIE comments and suggestions for closing recommendations in a timely manner.
GAO recommendations are a roadmap for BIE to establish and maintain comprehensive internal policies and procedures that support service delivery, ensure accountability, and provide organizational stability. We look forward to continuing our work with GAO and this Committee.
GAO Recommendations: Status & BIE Next Steps
In November 2016, the BIE filled several key positions that have been tasked with serving on an internal working group focused on evaluating all outstanding GAO recommendations as well as BIE’s past GAO closure submissions. The team completed its analysis in early 2017 and reported its findings and recommendations to BIE leadership in mid-March. Based on the information received, BIE leadership is not satisfied with the quality and timeliness of the work to date, and recognizes the shortcomings and need for each GAO recommendation to be reexamined and addressed. BIE is currently working to complete the actions recommended in each of these three GAO reports.
Outstanding GAO Recommendations
GAO made five recommendations:
Recommendation I – In June 2017, the BIE workgroup convened staff from across the Bureau for a two-day workshop. During the workshop, the workgroup solicited inter-departmental input regarding a formal strategic decision-making policy. A draft strategic decision-making procedure was produced by the workgroup shortly thereafter. On July 14, 2017, the BIE workgroup provided a copy of the draft strategic decision-making procedure to all BIE senior leaders for a one-week review and input period. Following the one week review, the workgroup incorporated all feedback and submitted the draft procedure to the IA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs and Collaborative Action (RACA) on July 28, 2017.
RACA is the office responsible for reviewing, and ultimately publishing, the document in the Indian Affairs Manual (IAM), which is a reference for all agencies and offices within IA. On August 18, 2017, RACA provided BIE edits and input for review. On August 21, 2017, BIE completed its review of RACA’s feedback and resubmitted the draft decision-making procedure for publication into the IAM. BIE is awaiting final publication of the strategic decision-making procedure by RACA. Upon final publication, BIE will schedule a training event for all appropriate personnel regarding the use of the newly drafted strategic decision-making policy as well as work to provide a closure package to GAO.
Recommendation IV – BIE, working cooperatively with leadership within IA and pertinent stakeholders, has reviewed the strategic plan submitted to GAO in September 2016 and has determined the quality of work as unsatisfactory, both for the purposes of closing recommendation four and for working as a functional tool intended to guide the organization in achieving its mission. At the close of this review, BIE immediately began the process of planning and drafting a revised strategic plan.
On March 8, 2017, BIE conducted a senior leader strategic planning exercise. On April 11, 2017 BIE held a follow-up strategic planning session, convening local, regional, and central office personnel to determine paths forward. By the end of April 2017, BIE began revising its mission and vision statement and identified draft goals. On June 14, 2017 and July 18 – 20, 2017, BIE held additional strategic planning sessions to identify strategies aligned to goals and established a communications plan for sharing the draft plan with internal and external stakeholders to solicit feedback as well as developing a timeframe for formal consultation with Indian tribes. In addition, BIE identified dates for additional organization-wide planning meetings on August 29–30, 2017 and September 26–28, 2017.
To ensure that the strategic planning process is effective and results in a high quality and useful work product, the BIE has partnered with external subject matter expert organizations, such as the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the South Central Comprehensive Center (SC3), and the Building State Capacity and Productivity Center (BSCPC). These organizations have provided BIE with technical expertise and shared best practices in developing an effective, long-term strategic plan as well as creating a functional action plan for implementing a measurement system to track progress once the strategic plan is implemented.
GAO-15-121—INDIAN AFFAIRS: Bureau of Indian Education Needs to Improve Oversight of School Spending (November, 2014).
GAO made four recommendations:
Recommendation I – During the early stages of the current BIE reform, IA contracted a workforce study. However, following BIE’s meetings with GAO on June 17, 2017 and August 16, 2017, GAO provided clarification regarding work product expectations identifying skills gap, prioritization of vacancies, and the need for plans contingent on varying outcomes, such as available funding and hiring constraints. BIE plans to revisit the work done by IA in the prior study and reexamine its workforce planning efforts in light of GAO’s feedback.
Recommendation II – BIE staff is working to ensure that necessary financial oversight information is shared across the agency. In the short term, BIE has developed a share point system and ensured all key staff members, such as those involved with calculating the 2017 – 2018 school risk matrix, have access to audit reports. Additionally, BIE now has access to the IA Division of Internal Evaluation and Assessment (DIEA) Audit Report Tracking Tool (ARTT) system that provides a real-time status of Audit report findings, recommendations and questioned costs.
In June 2017, the BIE working group convened staff from across the BIE for a two-day workshop to develop a permanent, comprehensive, interdepartmental policy and procedure for sharing information across the Bureau. In addition, BIE is currently working with its Information Technology support staff to examine the feasibility of implementing an electronic tool that would provide all internal divisions within BIE fiscal monitoring access to upload and share documents and information.
Recommendation III – As part of its work, BIE leadership has given all staff with fiscal monitoring responsibilities the directive that all school monitoring events will be made in a single, coordinated manner. This will ensure that staff from the Division of Performance and Accountability, School Operations, Education Resource Center, and Associate Deputy Director offices will conduct single, coordinated visits to all schools identified as high risk through the utilization of the BIE High-Risk Matrix.
In addition, the BIE workgroup convened a two-day workshop in June 2017 concentrated solely on addressing all outstanding recommendations related to BIE’s fiscal monitoring activities. During the workshop, the workgroup solicited inter-departmental input regarding a uniform, comprehensive, interdepartmental fiscal monitoring policy and procedure. A draft fiscal monitoring policy and procedure is in draft form but still requires further input and editing, which will be completed in the coming months. Following the workgroup’s final drafting efforts, BIE plans to submit the fiscal monitoring policy and procedure to all BIE senior leaders for a review and input period, after which BIE will submit the proposed policy and procedure to RACA for review and publishing into the IAM.
Finally, on August 14, 2017, the BIE received Departmental approval to advertise and fill three key fiscal monitoring related positions. These positions are newly established under the reform and were specifically designed to provide BIE with increased human capital needed to effectively conduct fiscal monitoring. These positions include a Program Manager for Budget and Finance and two auditor positions.
Recommendation IV – In June 2017, members of the BIE working group met to begin drafting a comprehensive risk-based monitoring methodology to ensure compliance with the Fraud Reduction and Data Analytics Act of 2015 (Public Law 114–186). During the workshop, the workgroup solicited inter-departmental input regarding a comprehensive risk assessment methodology. The workgroup has completed its work implementing the 2017–2018 risk assessment based on the comprehensive methodology.
The workgroup is also drafting a risk assessment policy and procedure to ensure the methodology is used annually in a standardized and uniform manner. However, the policy and procedure requires further input and editing, which will take place in coming months. Following the workgroup’s final drafting efforts, BIE plans to submit the risk assessment policy and procedure to all BIE senior leaders for a review and input period, after which BIE will submit the proposed policy and procedure to RACA for review and publishing into the IAM.
GAO-16-313—INDIAN AFFAIRS: Key Actions Needed to Ensure Safety and Health at Indian School Facilities (March, 2016)
GAO made recommendations:
Recommendations I and II – BIE has worked with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to address the first recommendation by implementing a Safe School Audit. BIA completed safety inspections at all BIE-funded schools for the first time in 2016. BIE and BIA are currently on time in completing all school inspections in 2017 as well. However, BIE understands the need to ensure focus on completion does not detract from the quality of inspections. To that end, BIA has formed an inter-agency workgroup to address all safety-related GAO recommendations. The workgroup consists of staff from across IA, including the BIE, BIA, DIEA, the Deputy Assistant Secretary – Management (DAS-M), and Division of Facilities Management and Construction (DFMC). The workgroup’s first meeting was held on May 31 through June 1, 2017, with a follow-up meeting held August 15-16, 2017.
As a contingency plan, the workgroup has also drafted an inspection mitigation and prioritization plan based on risk should it be unable to complete 100 percent of inspections in future years. BIE plans to submit its mitigation and prioritization plan to its IA partners for review and input no later than September 2017.
Recommendations III and IV – BIE is conducting ongoing staff and administrator training and is working with BIA to provide long-term support of school safety committees through school inspections. We recognize that reporting for such activities is inadequate, so BIE is working with BIA to provide oversight of such inspections. The agencies, through the workgroup members described in GAO 16-313 Recommendations I and II, are working to produce formal policies and procedures to address shortcomings through a recently formed inter-agency workgroup that met throughout the summer coordinate activities to ensure such committees are formed and trained in a timely and consistent manner.
2017 GAO Recommendations
GAO-17-421—INDIAN AFFAIRS: Further Actions Needed to Improve Oversight and Accountability for School Safety Inspections (May, 2017)
GAO made six recommendations, five of which apply to BIE in conjunction with IA and BIA:
GAO-17-423—INDIAN AFFAIRS: Better Data Could Improve Road Management and Inform Indian Student Attendance Strategies (May, 2017)
GAO made eight recommendations, two of which apply to BIE:
Recommendation VIII – BIE non-concurs with GAO regarding this recommendation. While this could be beneficial, altering the transportation formula would require formal negotiated rulemaking. The BIE would only consider undergoing such rulemaking with the support of its tribal partners. To date, BIE has not received any such communication.
GAO 17-447—INDIAN AFFAIRS: Actions Needed to Better Manage Indian School Construction Projects (May, 2017)
GAO made six recommendations, two of which apply to BIE:
Recommendation VI – BIE will work cooperatively with OFPSM and DFMC to draft guidance regarding how official contract and grant files are required to be held by the contracting officer or awarding official and any requirements for retention and location of such files. BIE will coordinate activities to ensure on time delivery to GAO. As this is a new report, these items are not outstanding but will be addressed as expeditiously as possible.
Chairman Hoeven, Vice Chairman Udall, and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to present testimony today and provide the Committee an update regarding our work with GAO. BIE is excited about our recent progress and remains committed to addressing all of GAO’s recommendations in order to achieve sustained improvement. The BIE looks forward to working with you and our partners as we address the recommendations. Thank you for your time, and I would be honored to answer any questions you may have.