Loss of federal funds = lost services to the people

$2.7 million in unused dollars from 2012 to be returned to federal government

By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, October 4, 2012

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T he Navajo Nation has returned about $63.1 million in federal funding to the federal government since 2008.

An estimated $2.7 million of the $63.1 million is what could revert to the federal government when the 2012 tribal operating budget is closed out.

Meanwhile, the Navajo Nation is expecting an estimated $32 million cut in federal funding from the U.S. government, which begins in January 2014.

The Office of the Controller and Office of Management and Budgets reported the grand total of about $63.1 million, which is part of the federal contracts and grants awarded to the tribe, to the Budget and Finance Committee on Tuesday.

B&F Committee Chair LoRenzo Bates (Nenahnezad/Newcomb/San Juan/T'iistoh Sikaad/Tse Daa K'aan/Upper Fruitland) provided the $32 million in a separate interview with the Navajo Times late Tuesday.

After a lengthy discussion on the $63.1 million report, the committee voted unanimously for Controller Mark Grant, OMB Executive Director Dominic Beyal and OMB Contracts and Grants Department Director Cordell Shorty to present their reports to the Council's other standing committees for their information and recommendations.

Bates noted to Grant, Beyal and Shorty that the nation expects to hear that zero dollars reverted to the federal government in 2013.

He also warned the financial administrators to expect the "same tongue lashing" from the other committees.

Heather L. Clah, attorney for President Ben Shelly, asked the B&F Committee to meet with Shelly before notifying the committees that the financial officers would be presenting reports about the $63.1 million to them.

Clah said that Shelly was "upset" over the $63.1 million.

She offered to arrange the meeting between the B&F Committee and Shelly so that the notification to the committees could be a "joint letter."

Bates said that the B&F Committee would send a written invitation to Shelly to meet with them.

During the committee's discussion on the $63.1 million, B&F Committee member Mel Begay (Bahastl'ah/Coyote Canyon/Mexican Springs/Naschitti/Tohatchi) asked how Shelly was addressing what appeared to be an annual reverting of federal funds to the federal government.

"The president should be at the table here to say how he's addressing this," Begay said. "All the operations of the government deal with these monies and all those programs are under his nose."

B&F Committee member Danny Simpson (Becenti/Crownpoint/Huerfano/Lake Valley/Nageezi/Nahodishgish/Tse 'ii'ahi/Whiterock) recommended that a subcommittee of B&F Committee members, the controller's office and OMB be created to develop policies so there's no repeat of the past four years of sending back money back to the federal government.

Bates said that his concern was that somewhere in the tribal government, someone was writing a proposal for more money from the federal government.

But if the federal government is aware of the $63.1 million, and they probably are, they're probably asking why they should award the tribe more money when the tribe is just going to give it back because they're not spending it for any number of reasons identified by OMB, he said.

Bates added that he agreed with Simpson that the loss of federal funds equals lost services to the people.

But he said if a subcommittee of committee members and financial officials is established, it would go against his advice to the committee, which is that it's not the responsibility of the Council delegates to micromanage divisions and programs in the three branches.

"We should make it all our goal to get this issue resolved as quickly as can, in terms of whatever is necessary," Bates said. "And it will require a considerable amount of cooperation from the president because he's the chief executive officer of the executive branch. He's the one that can crack the whip on division directors. And it seems that's what is necessary to take care of the problem we have today."

He added that Chief Justice Herb Yazzie, who is the Judicial Branch CEO, and Speaker Johnny Naize (Blue Gap-Tachee/Cottonwood-Tselani/Low Mountain/Many Farms/Naize), Legislative Branch chief, also need to get involved because the $63.1 million is a tribal problem.

In a separate interview, Bates recalled that the B&F Committee had asked the Controller's Office and OMB on Sept. 27 to prepare and present a detailed report on the impact of the $32 million federal budget cut to the three branches on Tuesday.

But he said "clarification" on the $32 million that was requested from the Navajo Nation Washington, D.C., office by the committee, controller and OMB had not been provided, which delayed the report for Tuesday's meeting.

The report to the B&F Committee on the problem of the tribal government returning portions of its federal contracts and grants and the identification of specific amount, which is $63.1 million, resulted after Resources and Development Chair Katherine Benally (Chilchinbeto/Dennehotso/Kayenta), on Sept. 20, called for the Controller's Office to provide printouts of federal funds reverting to the federal government to be given to all the delegates.

On Sept. 20, the Council's Naa'bik'iyati' Committee was meeting on proposed legislation that recommended to the Council to approve a six-month extension of the 2012 budget after the Council tabled the 2013 budget for six months on Sept. 10.

But on Sept. 21, the Council approved the 2013 budget, which Shelly signed on Sept. 28.

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