Tribal Resistance to Change, Change, Change

June 11, 2013 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment

1127864_do_not_disturbOne of my favorite songs right now is called “Change” by the group Churchill. It’s got a good beat and it’s quite catchy. The repeating phrase in the refrain goes, “You want me to change, change, change, you want me to change.” Pretty simplistic, but it works in the song.

I dedicate this song to all those grantees out there that would be affected by the Office of Management and Budget’s proposed grant reform guidance. When this guidance is finalized, grantees’ current oversight processes definitely would change, change, change. But as we know, many of us are reluctant to change (yours truly included). One particular group of stakeholders — Indian tribal governments — is being especially vocal about one change dealing with single audit reporting. The upshot of their comment is essentially “leave us alone,” “don’t tread on me,” “do not disturb,” “this is the way we’ve always done  it and like it that way.”

Their concerns can be summarized in comments submitted by the Native American Finance Officers Association, which said that Section __.712 of the proposal would represent a shift in federal policy and conflicts with existing federal-Indian policy, a federal statute, and at least one other regulation. Under the proposed regulation, tribes will be required to submit their full reporting and financial audit package and make it available for public inspection. Currently, tribes submit data collection forms to the Federal Audit Clearinghouse. These forms include the required disclosure of federal awards and financial information without making sensitive financial information available to other governments, the public and competitors.

According to NAFOA, tribes have urged OMB, at the very least, to consider continuing the existing practice for tribal governments of data collection forms and not move toward public disclosure of sensitive financial information. The tribes feel this provision conflicts with the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, which states that “reports and information [be made] available to the Indian people served or represented by such recipient as and in a manner determined to be adequate by the appropriate Secretary.” It also calls for tribes to file single-agency audit reports. “This law and subsequent regulation provides for accountability and transparency to the people served by the program while ensuring agency accountability,” NAFOA said in its comments. “Contrary to OMB proposed guidance, the law and regulations provide specifically that information be made available only to the funded population (Indians) and the agency providing funding.”

The association noted that the public has a very limited understanding of the federal-Indian policy or how tribes operate, let alone an understanding of how to interpret financial statements. It also said that the provision also may place tribes at a competitive disadvantage when negotiating with other governments and competing with external business enterprises by disclosing what may be proprietary information.

There is a certain amount of transparency and accountability needed when overseeing federal funding. It may appear that Indian tribes have something to hide, when that may not be the case. I can see their point and agree they should have a special level of autonomy, but I still have issues with their comments. I could use some help here. Let me know how you feel about this issue, and if the tribal governments have a valid point. Should they be allowed to say “no way” to this change, change, change?

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