HHS tribal committee planned for quick launch

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WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is building a new committee aimed at better connecting with tribal communities on health issues.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced Oct. 7 her intent to establish a Secretary’s Tribal Advisory Committee, which she said signals “a new level of attention” to government-to-government relationships between the agency and tribes.

“The establishment of a tribal advisory committee at the secretarial level will create a coordinated, department-wide strategy to incorporate tribal guidance on HHS priorities, policies and budget, improve the government-to-government relationship, and mechanisms for continuous improvement with our partnership with Indian tribes,” Sebelius said in a statement. “We are committed to continually improving our relationship with Indian country and building healthier communities.”

Department officials said the committee’s primary purpose will be “to seek consensus, exchange views, share information, provide advice and recommendations; or facilitate any other interaction related to intergovernmental responsibilities or administration of HHS programs, including those that arise explicitly or implicitly under statute, regulation or executive order.”

The first meeting of the committee is planned for December, and nominations to serve are needed by the end of October, agency officials said.

Joe Finkbonner, executive director of the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board, said many tribes will likely be supportive of being able to have direct input to the secretary on important policy direction.

“The only issue I have heard to date is the short timeline,” Finkbonner said.

Deadlines are fast approaching, with HHS officials saying that nominations are currently being sought for one primary representative from each of the 12 areas of IHS, as well as five at-large national representatives.

“All representatives must either be elected or appointed tribal officials, acting in their official capacity as the elected officials of their tribe, or be designated by an elected tribal official with authority to act on behalf of the tribal official,” according to an agency press release.

Nominations should be submitted no later than Friday, Oct. 29 to:

Paul Dioguardi, director

Office of Intergovernmental Affairs

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

200 Independence Ave

SW. Room 630-F

Washington, DC 20201

Fax: (202) 205-2727

E-mail: HHSIGA@hhs.gov