Deferred maintenance weighs heavily on federal infrastructure in Indian country

Native American tribal leaders pressured federal agencies to reimburse billions of dollars in deferred maintenance at federal facilities in Native American communities during a House hearing on June 17.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Indian Education and the Indian Health Service operate or fund more than 1,800 federal facilities, ranging from fire stations to hospitals and schools, said the chairperson of the Subcommittee on Health Care. Indigenous Peoples of the United States, Teresa Leger Fernández (DN.M.).

Many need infrastructure updates.

“We rely on certain federal facilities to provide services to our tribal citizens, including schools and health facilities,” said Ned Norris, Jr., President of the Tohono O’odham Nation. “Like other tribes, our federal facilities are in terrible shape, and funding to replace or rebuild them is perpetually insufficient.”

The discussion comes as lawmakers and the Biden administration negotiate an infrastructure bill. Biden’s proposal for the U.S. Jobs Plan included investments in broadband, clean water and transportation in the Indian country. During the first week of the Biden administration, the president issued a memorandum to agencies about his intention to implement a 2000 executive order requiring consultation and coordination with Indian tribal governments.

Lawmakers asked how the FY2022 budget could address long-standing federal infrastructure issues on tribal lands.

The FY2022 budget request for the Indian Health Service includes an increase in funding of $ 583 million for IHS facilities programs and an overall 36% increase in discretionary budget authority over fiscal year 2021, said Randy Grinnel, deputy director of management operations at IHS.

But the total need for its health care facility construction program was around $ 14.5 billion in 2016, he said. The ministry’s first drafts to update this estimate show that it could now reach $ 22 billion.

The buildings themselves show the effects of underfunding – the average age of IHS facilities is over 37, compared to an average of nine or 10 years in the private sector, Grinnel said.

It also impacts operations.

“Obsolete facilities and equipment also create challenges for the retention and recruitment of high quality healthcare professionals,” he said. “The lack of sufficient resources to meet the ongoing needs of facilities and operations also compromises health care.”

Many schools are also in need of updates.

The FY2022 budget request for the Bureau of Indian Education includes $ 264.3 million in annual construction funding, said Jason Freihage, assistant assistant secretary for management in the office of the assistant secretary of Indian Affairs.

The agency also receives mandatory Great American Outdoors Act funds, which can be used for priority deferred maintenance projects.

But the current backlog of deferred maintenance of educational institutions is $ 823.3 million. Education districts, a separate category, have their own deferred maintenance backlog of $ 102.1 million.

Of the 86 schools classified by the agency as “poor,” 73 currently have no funding for major replacement or repair, Freihage said.

Several lawmakers, including Fernandez, House Natural Resources chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona) and subcommittee member Don Young (R-Alaska), have signaled their intention to work on these issues.

Really fixing them will take commitment, said David Hill, Senior Chief of the Muscogee Nation.

“Repairing the damage to tribal capacity caused by decades of a broken system will not be solved in a single budget cycle or a single infrastructure bill. We can and must address urgent, short-term needs, which are not. necessary, but are essential, ”he said. told lawmakers. “We are making substantial investments, but we need the federal government to live up to its end of the bargain.”

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