Once again, complete incompetency, corruption, mismanagement, greed and most likely a combination of all these traits has created yet another storm of mistrust regarding American Indian affairs and the wisdom in spending taxpayer dollars.

This time the target is squarely on the federal Indian Health Service.

But it should be on Congress itself just as much.

A congressional investigation conducted by the Government Accountability Office, which acts only on requests from Congress, reported that at least $15.8 million worth of equipment charged to the Indian Health Service is missing, and further, that falsified documents and cover-ups were evident during its investigation as IHS officials tried to influence the findings.

The losses, which include a bevy of missing computers and at least one loaded with sensitive information such as 800 Social Security numbers, came between the 2004 and 2007 budget years, meaning if the audit went wider than that span, it likely would find much more fault.

Also missing are trucks, tractors, all-terrain vehicles and about a third of information technology items listed as property of the Indian Health Services.

The accounting arm of Congress also noted that there are three computers for every one employee at IHS headquarters in Maryland near Washington, D.C.

Oh, and get this: The audit claims that $700,000 in equipment was disposed of because it was "infested with bat dung.


Advertisement

"

When will some sense of accountability be demanded of the agencies and governments that administer to the needs of American Indians, and of entities that also spend millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars?

The Indian Health Service is responsible for providing desperately needed health care to tribes throughout the country.

"It's disgusting what's happening at the Indian Health Service," claims North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan, chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. "We can't continue to allow this. We have people dying because they can't get health care, and then we get a report like this."

True, Mr. Dorgan, but your judgmental words do little to help the situation unless you and your colleagues in Congress wake up, push special interests aside and take action.

That includes New Mexico's own Sen. Pete Domenici, who also serves on the Senate's Indian Affairs Committee and has done many great things over the years for American Indian people. Requiring greater accountability of their money, however, is not one of them.

The problems with a lack of accountability start in places such as Window Rock, Ariz., the government seat of the Navajo Nation, and they stretch all the way to Capitol Hill where, figuratively speaking, the only difference is that fatter butts sit in wider seats.

Until someone is serious enough to do something more than talk, we can all count on another century of American Indian representation being led by corruption, greed and/or mismanagement.

There is almost zero accountability.

This newspaper pointed that out on a much smaller scale only months ago when an investigation revealed that hundreds of Navajo representatives traveled to Hawaii, much of the costs covered by public money, for an education conference. However, there was little evidence that most of them had any direct ties whatsoever to education.

Outside of outrage by reform-minded Navajo tribal members who once again cried out in frustration, everyone in Washington seemed satisfied with in-house investigations and apathy on the matter.

Ditto for officials and mismanagement within the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which perhaps is a much bigger disaster awaiting investigation by Congress, if Congress only would shed politics for ethics and do its job.

American Indians and American taxpayers are being scamed of millions of dollars every day. Further, there are people in need paying a steep price for it. In this case, American Indians with horrific health needs, living in Third World conditions while desperately needed money goes to missing trucks, computers and ATV toys for someone.

Not to mention hundreds of thousands wasted because of "bat dung."

We need accountability of all taxpayer money designated for helping the American Indian people.

The BIA, the IHS and all other agencies in the alphabet soup of money squandering related to American Indian affairs requires not just lip-service admonishment, but a radical overhaul in organization and accountability.

Mr. Dorgan, Mr. Domenici, members of the committee and Congress:

Please do something more than talk.

We need you to use this latest investigation as a springboard and for you to show real leadership with the opportunity at hand.

It's time we move from the politics of the Kit Carson era and the 1800s, and realize those 19th Century problems that we inherited deserve 21st Century solutions.

It is clear to see that money, trust and lives depend on it.

Troy Turner is the editor of The Daily Times. He can be contacted at P.O. Box 450, Farmington, N.M., 87499; or at tturner@daily-times.com.