BIA is proposing to furlough employees for one day each pay period through the remainder of the fiscal year through September 30, 2013 to offset funding shortages supposedly created under the sequestration bill. BIA has suspended all travel and training, and frozen vacant positions meaning that all vacancies can't be filled. This seems a little extreme. Common sense says that if you suspend travel and training plus filling vacant positions, why would you need to furlough current employees? Travel and training costs amount to approximately 30 percent of overall BIA expenses. Furloughing employees maybe will save approximately $9.6 million, but freezing travel and training will save almost that much along with savings from current vacancies.
Vacant positions are a common issue as many BIA positions constantly are vacant. They usually cover these vacancies by detailing other BIA staff into these positions because they deem these positions critical. The detail means that someone is promoted with a temporary pay increase into the position and are provided travel costs, per diem and lodging paid for by the BIA. High priced costs to send someone into a location to temporarily cover a position which is vacant.
Presently, the Special Assistant to the BIA director is an employee detailed for the past two or three years into a position that didn't exist before in Washington, D.C. and he is allowed to travel back and forth to his home. A ghost position but you would be surprised how many "Special Assistant" positions exist in D.C. You would think that a "Special Assistant" wouldn't need an "Assistant" because that's why they are "Special Assistants." But they have the authority to detail folks in to help them do what they were detailed in to do. How much does that cost? If you terminated all of these details and shut off the costs for per diem and lodging, plus airfare for these Special Assistant's travel, wouldn’t there be significant savings?
But yet BIA has decided to take your local agency young mothers and fathers out of the office for one day every pay period and furlough them. This is a tremendous hardship on those young tribal members who barely make it now because usually they are entry level employees meaning they are at the low end of the pay scale. They are forcing furloughs on the local employees while upper level management continues to stroll the hallways of the D.C. Central Office and probably won't have to worry about furloughs. President Obama is committing to surrender 5% of his monthly pay for the sequestration and he should require all of his agency heads and management to do so as well so that the lower level employees can feel like "it's not just me, it's everyone."
I was recently approached by the U.S. General Accounting Office, more commonly referred to as the GAO, to provide information about things happening in the field. During this time, Indian folks will be suffering from the furlough and other actions. I believe that tribal consultation should have been conducted once the final plan was developed and question why these employees are being furloughed while there are still funds out there. The decision has been made without true final consultation from tribes. But, it always takes someone to step up to the plate and take a swing. There, I've taken my swing. Now it's up to tribes to step up and take a swing.
Now, if every employee is furloughed one day each pay period for twenty pay periods, covering the time period through September 2013, that would equate to about $9.6 mil in cost recovery. But what is that going to cost Indian country? You as land and mineral owners will have to wait even longer for service and for your leases and rights-of-way to be processed. Did BIA consult with tribes as required by Presidential Executive Order 13175 in their final decision to furlough employees? Initially BIA did advise of the potential impacts on Indian country for the reduced funding anticipated. But once the sequestration became reality and was implemented, there was no true tribal consultation as to how it would impact Indian country. The furlough of BIA employees will impact local reservations because employees will be gone one day each pay period. It will be hard to get things done. Tribes must stand up and demand that these employees be allowed to work so that your work is met timely. Here is the official memorandum issued to all employees.
Why aren't the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Office of Special Trustee, and other DOI agencies, implementing a furlough on their employees? The reason is that these Departments implemented the Voluntary Early Retirement Act (VERA) in a timely manner and was able to avert furloughs. BIA planned poorly. Tribes need to take BIA to task on this issue because it will create a hardship on your tribal membership.
Jay Daniels has 30 years of experience working in Indian Country, managing trust lands and is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. You can find resources and information at RoundhouseTalk.com.