WASHINGTON –The Indian Health Service (IHS), the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and other Indian programs fare well under President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for 2013. In fact, funding for IHS under the plan appears to be the most ever, not accounting for inflation.
Including IHS and BIA funding, Indian programs are budgeted at $19.4 billion under the plan across all federal agencies. That's $1 billon more than the fiscal year 2010 budget and over $800 million more than fiscal year 2011 continuing resolution levels.
"Overall government-wide, spending actually increased over FY 2010 and FY 2011 continuing resolution levels," noted Kim Teehee, White House senior policy advisor for Native American Affairs, in a conference call. White House officials assessed that tribes fared "pretty well in light of tough decisions that had to be made."
Obama’s latest proposed increase for IHS would fund the agency at $4.422 billion—a slight increase from the $4.307 billion funding estimate for fiscal year 2012. When spending for contract health services and construction for new hospitals, clinics, and staff facilities is added, IHS would receive a total of $5.5 billion under the proposal, which appears to be the highest ever requested for the agency. The agency can use contract health service funds to purchase care for Indians at facilities outside of its operations.
“The budget includes $5.5 billion for the Indian Health Service (IHS) to strengthen federal, tribal, and urban programs that serve two million [American Indians and Alaska Natives] at over 650 facilities in 35 states,” notes the Office of Management and Budget—drawing attention to the request in its summary of the nation’s overall budget.
Meanwhile, Obama’s fiscal year 2013 BIA budget calls for $2.527 billion in spending, which is just shy of the $2.531 billion called for in fiscal year 2012. The fiscal year 2011 budget allocated $2.594 billion.
“The budget request maintains President Obama’s commitment to strengthening tribal nations by making targeted increases in Indian Affairs programs that support tribal self-determination in managing BIA-funded programs, increase public safety in tribal communities by strengthening police capabilities, improve the administration of tribal land, mineral, timber and other trust resources and advance Indian education,” Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk said in a statement. “Indian Affairs is sensitive to the need for achieving greater results at a lower cost, and the proposed budget reflects the tough choices that will make us more cost efficient in carrying out our missions.”
The reductions include a loss of $16 million for BIA construction (down to $106 million from $124 million). $9 million, meanwhile, is added for contract support. There are also some increases for law enforcement, tribal colleges, and natural resources.
Michael Black, director of the BIA, said in a conference call discussing the budget that upcoming meetings of the Commission to Evaluate Indian Trust Administration and Reform will help the agency decide if it can afford to spend less on current Indian trust programs there, including at the Office of the Special Trustee. The commission was established last July by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who has said that the Cobell settlement, currently on appeal in federal court, could help streamline the department’s overall trust reform efforts.
Most federal programs for Indians beyond the BIA and IHS, such as those at the U.S. Departments of Education, Justice and Housing & Urban Development, were also protected from cuts.
"Throughout most federal agencies, funding for Native American programs remained relatively level," noted Teehee. "Given the fiscal situation the country faces, this is a significant achievement."
The president’s overall budget, released February 13, provides an outline to Congress on the Obama administration’s priorities in the coming years. In terms of the big picture, the $3.8 trillion plan includes a component to tax the wealthy – defined as those earning $1 million or more – at a required 30 percent tax rate or higher. It also includes cuts to many domestic agencies, while reducing military spending due to the winding down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At the same time, it doubles spending on transportation and infrastructure projects nationwide, while featuring a $350 billion jobs plan. In total, $476 billion would be spent through 2018 on highway, bridge and mass transit projects.
While the proposal includes $1.5 trillion in new taxes on the rich and features many cuts, the federal deficit would still continue to climb by over $600 billion every year for each of the next 10 years, except 2018.
Last fall and into the winter, there had been emphasis by the Obama administration and the U.S. Congress on spending less and aiming for entitlement reform, but those plans have largely deteriorated as little bi-partisan agreement has made headway.
Republicans have generally said the overall Obama plan doesn’t cut enough federal agency spending, and some would have liked to see reforms to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.