Deferred maintenance puts a strain on the federal infrastructure in the Indian country
Indian tribal leaders at a House hearing on June 17 urged federal agencies to catch billions of dollars in deferred maintenance at federal Indian tribal facilities.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Indian Education, and the Indian Health Service operate or fund over 1,800 federal facilities, from fire stations to hospitals and schools, said United States Indigenous Peoples Subcommittee Chair Teresa Leger Fernández (DN.M .).
Many need infrastructure updates.
“We rely on certain federal institutions to provide services to our tribal citizens, including schools and health facilities,” said Ned Norris Jr., chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation. “Like other tribes, our federal facilities are in very poor condition and the funding to replace or rebuild them is consistently inadequate.”
The discussion comes as the legislature and the Biden government negotiate an infrastructure bill. Biden’s proposal for the American employment plan included investments in broadband, safe drinking water and transportation in the Indian countryside. During the first week of the Biden administration, the President gave a Memorandum to agencies on its intention to enforce an executive order from 2000 that requires consultation and coordination with Indian tribal governments.
Legislators asked how the budget for fiscal year 2022 might address longstanding federal infrastructure issues on tribal land.
The IHS budget proposal for FY2022 includes a $ 583 million increase in funding for IHS facility programs and an overall increase in budget discretion by 36% over FY2021, said Randy Grinnel, assistant director of management operations at IHS.
But the total needs for the health facility building program as of 2016 is about $ 14.5 billion, he said. The department’s first drafts to update this estimate show it could now go as high as $ 22 billion.
The buildings themselves show the effects of underfunding – the average age of IHS facilities is over 37 years, compared to an average of nine or ten years in the private sector, Grinnel said.
This also affects the operation.
“In addition, outdated facilities and equipment pose challenges for the retention and recruitment of highly qualified healthcare professionals,” he said. “The lack of sufficient resources to meet the ongoing needs of the facility and operations also affects health care.”
Many schools also need updates.
The budget proposal for the BIE for FY2022 provides $ 264.3 million in annual funding to build educational facilities, said Jason Freihage, the assistant assistant secretary of administration in the office of the assistant secretary for Indian affairs.
The agency also receives some mandatory funding from the Great American Outdoors Act that can be used for priority delayed maintenance projects.
But the current educational delayed maintenance backlog is $ 823.3 million. Educational neighborhoods, a separate category, have their own $ 102.1 million backlog for delayed maintenance.
Of the 86 schools rated “bad” by the agency, 73 currently have no funding for a major replacement or repair, Freihage said.
Several lawmakers, including Fernandez, chairman of House Natural Resources, Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., And Don Young, R-Alaska, a member of the subcommittee, have signaled their intention to work on these issues.
Truly fixing them requires dedication, said David Hill, principal chief of the Muscogee Nation.
“Repairing the damage inflicted on tribal capacity by decades of a broken system will not be resolved in a budget cycle or an infrastructure bill. We can and must address short term urgent needs that are not necessary but essential, ”he told lawmakers. “We’re making significant investments, but we need the federal government to do its part of the bargain.”
Natalie Alms works at FCW for the federal workforce. She is a graduate of Wake Forest University and has written for the Salisbury (NC) Post. Connect with Natalie on Twitter at @AlmsNatalie.