Skip to main content

Anderson: "The opportunity of a lifetime"

In the business world, organizations can usually be divided into two columns. Successful organizations are those that meet any and all future challenges through adaptation. These organizations quickly embrace new ways of doing business. Far less successful are the organizations which stubbornly resist change and which cling to their old ways of doing business. Perhaps there is no better example of this than the recent transformation of the Department of the Interior's Indian Affairs functions.

Today, all across Indian country and in the nation's capital, we are witnessing a dynamic restructuring of the business model of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians. The goal of the reorganization has been simple: to create a structure that will improve services to tribes and individuals and strengthen land, natural resource and trust fund asset management.

The much-debated reorganization of BIA and OST is now substantially complete. The remaining task of reorganizing the BIA's Office of Law Enforcement Services is set for conclusion by the end of this month. This unprecedented reorganization has been built upon the foundation of detailed consultation and scoping sessions, including more than 45 meetings held by senior DOI leadership with tribal leaders in the Joint Tribal Leader/ DOI Task Force on Trust Reform.

With the determination and support of Interior Secretary Gale Norton, and the long-standing, bipartisan consent of the Congress, this structured realignment is now poised to achieve its primary goal: to bring reform of this sizeable federal agency that will benefit the individuals and tribes we are dedicated to serve.

We have sought to maintain the decision-making for trust assets at the agency level. Let's face it: the people on the ground have the very best expertise and knowledge of the needs of tribes and individuals. This reorganization effort strengthens agency-based decision-making but it also provides more resources to do the job. The new organization created an opportunity to support local agencies with the addition of trust officers and with the expertise of the Office of the Special Trustee and from BIA deputy superintendents.

At the same time, we have promoted tribal self-governance and self-determination, creating a new Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Development Policy and expanding the role of the Office of Self-Governance to include policy development and coordination for all self-determination programs.

We have infused this new organization with clear lines of command, performance standards, accountability and checks-and-balances from top to bottom. Within the Office of the Special Trustee, for example, a Deputy Special Trustee for Trust Accountability has been created, with the responsibility of trust training; trust regulations, policies and procedures; and the oversight of a Trust Program Management Center. OST has also established a new Review and Audit Division that reports directly to the Special Trustee and performs trust-related reviews of BIA and tribal fiduciary trust administration - ensuring that the Secretary's trust principles are followed. Within BIA, there is a new structure to promote oversight and effective management. BIA also retains its role for natural resource trust asset management.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

Again, this effort would not have been so successful if it were not for the strong, bipartisan support of the Congress. In December of 2002, when this reprogramming request to support BIA/OST reorganization was submitted to Congress, DOI received a positive response in less than 15 days. Congress also expressed its strong support for DOI trust reform efforts in its 2004 fiscal year appropriation, by providing $453.4 million for the unified trust budget. In the 2005 fiscal year, President Bush has proposed a budget of $614.4 million - a 36 percent increase.

Since coming to Washington one month ago, I have been very pleased and honored to meet with many of Indian country's most distinguished leaders. I have assured them that I may be new to this job, but I am no stranger to the issues that face our people. Together, we face challenges in securing a strengthened role in the nation's economic fabric - challenges that can only be met with quality support for tribal businesses and a renewed effort to provide educational opportunities for Native youth.

This administration is meeting that call with an unprecedented level of investment. In four years, President Bush has dedicated a total of $1.1 billion for the replacement, construction and repair of schools funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. That four-year total is $370 million more than the entire amount provided over the preceding eight years. This monumental sum includes the $229.1 million proposed by President Bush for the school modernization program in his fiscal year 2005 budget request.

My personal history of overcoming personal and professional adversity is, by now, well known. Many Indian leaders have asked me why I would choose to leave a successful business to captain this ship - taking command of an organization that has such a troubled history. My answer is simple: I see it as the opportunity of a lifetime. With the partnership of tribal leaders, we have an historic opportunity to lead this newly-reconstituted organization into a new century of service and commitment to American Indian and Alaska Native people.

It's never an easy path for an organization to embrace change. Holding onto old business methods and the status quo is, for many folks, the most comfortable and convenient path. The well-known issues that have served as the catalysts for comprehensive trust management reform over the past years, though, are still "front burner" issues today. Now, with this new organization, we have the tools for change in our grasp.

We have an unprecedented opportunity to work together, to overcome our longstanding concerns and, with our combined determination, build upon the U.S./Tribal government-to-government relationship. Ushering in such comprehensive change, we are working to remove the federal Indian Affairs organization from its "comfort zone" and promote new ways of thinking from which will spring creative solutions to historic problems.

Today, we have the opportunity to make these changes work for the tribes and individuals who depend on us across Indian country. It is the true hallmark of an agency that is willing to embrace change. It's an opportunity of a lifetime.

The Assistant Secretary - Indian Affairs has responsibility for fulfilling the Department's trust responsibilities to individual and tribal trust beneficiaries, as well as promoting tribal self-determination, self-governance and economic development for the nation's 562 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and their members. The Assistant Secretary also oversees the BIA, the 179-year old agency that provides services to individual American Indians and Alaska Natives from the federally recognized tribes; the Office of Federal Acknowledgment, which administers the Federal Acknowledgment Process; and the BIA school system which serves almost 50,000 American Indian children located on or near 63 reservations in 23 states.