Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee
Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and all five subcommittee chairs wrote to Department of the Interior (DOI) Inspector General Mark Greenblatt today requesting an investigation of Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney. Recent news reports describe Sweeney as heavily involved in the decision to declare Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs) eligible for an $8 billion relief fund created by the CARES Act intended solely for Native American tribes.
The full letter is available online at https://bit.ly/3bWR3kK.
Unlike federally recognized tribal governments, Alaska Native Corporations do not have sovereign status, nor do they maintain a formal relationship with the federal government. They are for-profit companies that continue to receive revenue during the pandemic.
Sweeney previously worked for an Alaska Native Corporation called Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, where she remains a shareholder. The decision to declare ANCs eligible for the $8 billion relief fund, the lawmakers write today, was based on “a dubious interpretation of the CARES Act” that Sweeney pushed internally.
Grijalva and the other lawmakers – Representatives. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico), vice chair of the Committee; Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona), chair of the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the U.S.; Jared Huffman (D-California), chair of the Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife; Alan Lowenthal (D-California), chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources; and TJ Cox (D-California), chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations – also request an investigation of the source of a recent data breach in which Department of the Interior sent sensitive data to Alaska Native Corporations that included tribal governments’ CARES Act applications.
The request for an investigation comes as the Trump administration is facing mounting criticism of its failure to respond quickly or effectively to coronavirus in Native American communities. The Today Show, among many other media outlets, ran a segment on April 20 featuring the Trump administration’s total failure to help the Navajo Nation, where the coronavirus outbreak continues to grow and has been declared one of the nation’s largest hotspots.
“Fair access and distribution of the funds included in the CARES Act is critical to ensuring every Tribe in the country has the tools to combat this pandemic,” Representative Haaland said. “However, this Administration’s abysmal track record on tribal issues continues. First, they tried to put for-profit corporations ahead of sovereign Tribal governments for coronavirus funding that was intended to help communities that need it most. Then, sensitive proprietary tribal information submitted to the Treasury and Interior was made public without consent. This is a breach of the trust responsibility. We have to get to the bottom of this to save lives, ensure economic stability, and protect tribal sovereignty.”
“Tribal Nations are experiencing disproportionate economic and health care impacts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Navajo Nation is experiencing one of the top 5 outbreaks per capita in the country. Tribal governments are struggling to provide essential services without the revenue from business ventures that they rely on in the absence of a tax base,” Representative Gallego said. “And yet instead of immediately disseminating CARES Act relief to struggling Tribal governments, the Departments of Interior and Treasury attempted to divert funds to Alaska Native Corporations, released Tribes’ proprietary information publicly, and have now missed the statutory deadline to get this relief into the hands of Tribal governments. These actions are not only irresponsible but raise serious questions about the ethics and legality of this process, especially given Assistant Secretary Sweeney’s ties to an Alaska Native Corporation. The Inspector General must immediately investigate this matter and get to the truth behind this botched rollout of desperately needed relief.”
“The U.S. Government has an obligation to ensure that Tribal communities receive the assistance they need – and that Congress appropriated for them," Representative Huffman said. “Assistant Secretary Sweeney’s apparent adulteration of the clear language of the CARES Act is unacceptable, but sadly is consistent with the direction of this Interior Department. To attempt to divert critical resources to oil and gas interests while mishandling critical and sensitive data is a betrayal of the public trust and must be swiftly investigated.”
“Considering the fact tribal governments have yet to receive essential CARES Act funds, I am extremely concerned that an administration official siphoned off these funds to for-profit corporations in what may be a clear conflict of interest,” Representative Cox said.