Policy Alert: GAO Releases Report on Tribal Federal Funding Data

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The Office of Management and Budget publishes an annual report (called a “crosscut”) on federal funding for programs that benefit Native Americans, but tribal stakeholders have expressed concerns about the report’s transparency. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that agency data shown in the report lacks details about what it represents, making it challenging for some people to understand and use the data. Federal agencies are required by law to provide a variety of programs and services to tribes and their members. Also, few agencies have formal processes for incorporating tribal input and needs into budgets.

GAO selected five agencies—the Departments of Agriculture (USDA), Education, Health and Human Services (HHS), the Interior, and Transportation (DOT)—interpret OMB’s guidance differently when identifying programs and information on federal funding to include in the crosscut. They also take different approaches to reporting data to OMB for a variety of reasons. The crosscut lacks detailed information about what the agency-reported data represent. Tribal stakeholders stated that this lack of detail makes it challenging for them to leverage the data for decision-making. By improving guidance to collect more detailed information from agencies in its request for crosscut data, OMB could help to provide crosscut users with greater clarity about the data being reported and better meet their needs.

Two of the five agencies have formal processes for incorporating tribal input during budget formulation, and they develop budget information that reflects tribal needs to varying degrees. Specifically, HHS and Interior have processes for tribal leaders to provide input on initial budget submissions to OMB. Also, HHS’s Indian Health Service has a tribal budget work group that develops information on tribal needs—including unmet needs—that the agency provides to OMB. However, three agencies do not have formal processes for incorporating tribal input into initial budget submissions and do not develop budget information that reflects tribal needs. Establishing formal processes would enable agencies to obtain tribal input and develop budget information that reflects tribal needs, including unmet needs. This would better ensure that decision makers and Congress have information to (1) understand resources needed to achieve program objectives and (2) assess the federal government’s progress meeting its unique responsibilities to tribes and their members, in accordance with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights recommendations.

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For any other questions or concerns, please contact Nicholas Lovesee, Senior Policy Advisor, at Nicholas@nafoa.org.

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