Senate Indian Affairs Committee Democrats Urge President Trump to Exempt Indian Services Agencies from Federal Hiring Freeze

Vice Chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Tom Udall – D – New Mexico

Published February 5, 2017

WASHINGTON – This past Wednesday, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) urged President Trump to exempt federal agencies that provide essential services to Native communities — particularly the Indian Health Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education — from his executive order freezing federal hiring.

In a letter to the president, the senators expressed concern that the federal hiring freeze will disproportionately affect American Indians and Alaska Natives and urged the president to reconsider the freeze as it applies to Indian programs, stating that, “the U.S Government has a solemn obligation to fulfill its treaty and trust responsibilities for Native peoples— an obligation that includes providing services such as health care, education, social services, and law enforcement to Native communities.”

“Even before the hiring freeze was announced, Federal agencies that provide these services were struggling to recruit and retain a qualified workforce, with personnel vacancies consistently cited by the Government Accountability Office and agency inspectors general as a major factor in the lack of available essential and basic services for Native peoples,” the lawmakers added.

The senators emphasized the vacancy rates that the Indian Health Service, the Bureau of Indian Education and law enforcement agencies in Indian Country already face, noting that a hiring freeze for these programs threatens to make these challenges worse and dramatically reduce access to critical medical, educational and public safety services for Native communities.

The full text of the letter can be found here and below.

Dear President Trump:

We are deeply concerned that the January 23 memorandum directing an immediate hiring freeze for Federal programs will have a disproportionate impact on American Indian and Alaska Native communities.  We request that you direct the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management to ensure agencies that provide essential services to Native peoples—in particular, the Indian Health Service and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education—are exempt from the hiring freeze and can continue to hire staff to fill vacancies for all core programs.

The U.S. Government has a solemn obligation to fulfill its treaty and trust responsibilities for Native peoples—an obligation that includes providing services such as health care, education, social services, and law enforcement to Native communities.   Even before the hiring freeze was announced, Federal agencies that provide these services were struggling to recruit and retain a qualified workforce, with personnel vacancies consistently cited by the Government Accountability Office and agency inspectors general as a major factor in the lack of available essential and basic services for Native peoples.  

For example, Indian Health Service medical facilities regularly face vacancy rates that meet or exceed 20 percent for physicians, nurses and other key clinical providers—forcing facilities in many tribal communities to reduce access to critical medical services and threatening necessary accreditation by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. 

The Bureau of Indian Education continues to experience similar staffing problems despite decades of Congressional findings supporting the need to recruit and retain teachers and other support staff critical to providing Native children with quality education.  In fact, the Bureau has 100 vacancies posted as of this month – the midpoint of the 2016-2017 school year.

Law enforcement agencies in Indian country also lack sufficient personnel.  The Indian Law and Order Commission noted in its 2013 report to Congress that there was a 50 percent staffing shortfall for law enforcement officers in Indian country.  Since the issuance of that report, tribes have continued to highlight the existence of a significant law enforcement shortage in Indian country and its impact on public safety in tribal communities.

In short, any freeze in hiring for Indian programs—whether temporary or permanent—threatens to make the challenges outlined here worse.  We urge you to reconsider the freeze as it applies to Indian programs and to direct affected agency heads to take whatever actions are necessary to fill positions at programs that serve American Indians and Alaska Natives.

 

                                                            Sincerely,

 

 

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This BBSNews article was syndicated from Native News Online, and written by Native News Online Staff. Read the original article here.