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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) questioned Indian Health Service Deputy Director Rear Admiral Chris Buchanan, Indian Affairs Assistant Secretary Tara Mac Lean Sweeney and National Congress of American Indians President Jefferson Keel about ways to improve Indian health care, tribal transportation programs and address aging irrigation systems.

Buchanan, Sweeney and Keel testified at today’s Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing on President Trump’s FY 2020 budget request for Indian programs.

Barrasso Questions IHS Dep. Dir. Buchanan

On Ways to Improve Indian Health Care:

“I appreciate the testimony from the panel today regarding funding for Indian programs for the upcoming fiscal year.

“Rear Admiral Buchanan, I’d like to begin with you.

“As you know, I have worked on legislation with members of this entire committee for the last several years to ensure the Indian Health Service has the tools it needs to improve access and quality of health care in their facilities.

“One month ago, April 8th, Chairman Hoeven, Senator Thune, and I sent a letter to Director Weahkee and Secretary Azar requesting the Indian Health Service answer some basic questions.

“One is how the agency manages staff and employment records, how background checks are completed to ensure patients are safe, and how the Indian Health Service addresses allegations of provider misconduct. Because that’s certainly been in the news.

“These are questions our staff first posed to the agency in February.

“I’d urge you to prioritize a response to our letter because it addresses some of the key failures that have placed human health and basic human safety at risk in the past.

“I know I speak for all of us when I say I want to work with you to ensure that catastrophic failures in patient care do not continue.

Click here for video of Sen. Barrasso questioning IHS Deputy Director Buchanan about ways to improve Indian health care

Barrasso Questions Indian Affairs Asst. Secretary Sweeney


“Assistant Secretary Sweeney, it’s good to see you.

“I appreciate the job you’re doing and I have appreciated working with you and with Secretary Bernhardt to address deferred maintenance in the Indian irrigation systems.

“When our bill, that I originally sponsored with many members of this committee who cosponsored it, the IRRIGATE Act, was enacted several years ago. It required Interior to submit a report to Congress, the deadline date was December of 2018, discussing the first two years of implementation.

“So since it’s now May and Congress is beginning the appropriations process, do you know when you expect to receive the report on the IRRIGATE Act?

On Self-Determination Contracts:

“Additionally Secretary Sweeney, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has a number of active agreements with tribes that operate certain programs under self-determination contracts.

“There have been a number of cases over the past several years where the Interior Inspector General has found that the BIA failed to adequately oversee a contract.

“Some cases were a result of poor staff training, some were due to ill-timed financial reviews of tribal expenditures.

“The president’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2020 provides increased funding for the BIA.

“What steps are you taking to improve staff training and oversight to ensure the agency and tribes are complying with federal law?

On High-Risk Indian Programs:

“The GAO recently published their latest High-Risk list for government programs.

“The Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Indian Education, and the Indian Health Service are all included on this list of high-risk government programs.

“I appreciate the progress you have made in addressing the GAO’s recommendations so far.

“Staff capacity and retention, I know, have hampered much of your progress over the past year or so.

“Do you believe the creation of the new Operation of Indian Education Programs account will help to address staff stability and recruitment issues?

Click here for video of Sen. Barrasso questioning Indian Affairs Asst. Sec. Sweeney on IRRIGATE Act, high-risk Indian programs

Barrasso Questions President Keel, National Congress of American Indians

On Tribal Transportation Programs:

“President Keel, your testimony focused a bit on transportation needs across Indian country. Something you and I have worked on over the last decade.

“While there are a number of programs that address tribal transportation, The Federal Highway Administration administers the Tribal Technical Assistance Program (TTAP).

“Can you talk to me a bit about how tribes have used TTAP over the last several years and whether it has improved project planning and delivery on the ground?”

Click here for video of Sen. Barrasso questioning NCAI President Keel on improving tribal transportation programs