IRS plans consultation with tribes

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WASHINGTON ? "Consultation" looks like the word of the day among federal bureaucrats dealing with Indian affairs. In a recent daylong meeting of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) advisory committee, the agency went out of its way to include tribal representatives.

Although the issue of tribal consultation occupied a mere 45 minutes of the June 21 meeting, the event was significant in that it sought to avoid the lack of communication that has plagued tribal/federal relations. The debacle over trust reorganization at the Department of Interior, in which Secretary Gale Norton was forced to abandon a plan introduced without tribal consultation, has apparently made an impression in Washington.

David Mullon, an advisory committee member who is associate general counsel to the Cherokee Nation, said the tribal tax policy consultation portion of the meeting was purposefully vague. He called it a stepping stone to developing a more extensive IRS policy on consulting with tribal governments.

"We are dealing with 560 different tribes who have very different histories ? and through treaties ? different relationships to the U.S. government," he said. "Trying to develop a comprehensive consultation policy will not be easy and it should be up to the tribes as unique and individual governments to formulate the policy of consultation"

Mullon proposed a four-step method to formulate a consultation policy:

?Use the National Indian Gaming Association and other regional inter-tribal organizations to discuss which issues to address and to gauge the most effective method for conducting consultation meetings;

?Hold initial regional meetings at all 12 regional IRS offices where tribal representatives could give advice;

?Collect feedback before even beginning to draft a policy; and

?Make sure that the tribes have an active role in creating a draft of the consultation policy.

"Make sure there is tremendous input from the tribes before you even begin," said Mullon emphasizing the cautious nature of the proceedings.

One committee member, Thomas Terry, seemed confused by the lack of specifics in Mullon's proposal and asked for clarification. Mullon answered that the point of his presentation was the tribes needed to supply the specifics.

Since the Environmental Protection Agency has recently begun its own consultation policy, committee members wondered aloud if EPA policy could be seen as a model for the IRS. Mullon stated firmly that the EPA model addressed too many different issues and would not be practical in this situation.

Indian Country Today then asked Mullon how 560 tribes could reasonably find a unified voice and what method would be provided for tribal input. Mullon mentioned several options, including the use of inter-tribal task forces. He said he did not have time to address other possibilities.

"I would say cautious is the key word," said Eric Facer, attorney for the Oneida Indian Nation of New York, outside the meeting.

Christie Jacobs, director of the two-year-old IRS Office of Indian Tribal Governments, said she was pleased that the issue of tribal consultation made the meeting. She emphasized the need for caution and said her office was zealously making sure that an Interior-style fiasco could be avoided.

"We're just taking this a single step at a time and we're trying to let the tribes, as individual governments, provide the voice on how they want to be consulted," she said.