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Senator wants improvements in BIA federal recognition process

WASHINGTON - While Sen. Jim Webb has announced his support of legislation that would grant six Virginia Indian tribes federal recognition, the senator also has expressed concerns about the slow process for recognition through the BIA.

In an Oct. 16 letter to the chairs of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Webb wrote that he was ''interested in finding ways to improve the BIA's administrative recognition process.''

The Department of the Interior established a process in 1978 that was intended to provide objectivity and standardization to the recognition procedures, according to Webb.

However, Webb wrote that the BIA has completed the process for 40 tribes. To date, seven applications are on ''active status'' and 10 are on ''ready status,'' he wrote. Some of the tribes began the process in the 1970s.

''All parties agree that the recognition process has proven to be an arduous one for both the tribes and the BIA,'' Webb wrote.

Webb noted that at a September hearing, the Committee on Indian Affairs found flaws in the BIA's recognition process, which had been documented in a 2001 Government Accountability Office Report.

Also, at the September hearing, a BIA official testified that the agency wanted to reach recognition decisions in about 25 months, he wrote.

But Webb told committee chairs in his letter that ''because of a consistent lack of resources, the BIA process traditionally has resulted in delays of 15 years or more.''

At a Nov. 8 press conference in support of the Virginia tribes' federal recognition, Webb, along with Reps. James P. Moran and Bobby Scott, agreed the ''BIA administrative recognition process needs reforms,'' according to Webb's press office.

''When you have petitions that have been sitting in the queue since 1978, the process needs a fix,'' said Webb in a prepared statement.