Kevin Washburn, the Interior Department’s Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, could not attend the National Indian Gaming Association’s 28th Annual Tradeshow and Convention in Phoenix, Arizona this year because of sequestration cuts to the department’s budget.
A reduction of more than $800 million for the remainder of the current fiscal year has grounded Washburn. “I am sorry that I am not able to be with you at the National Indian Gaming Association [NIGA] conference in Phoenix this year,” Washburn said, according to a document titled “Message from DOI Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn” that was distributed at the convention taking place March 24-28 at the Phoenix Convention Center. “I regret that it is the sequestration that prevents me from attending the conference this year. Although Indian Affairs recognizes the crucial importance of Indian gaming and the programs run by NIGA and its member tribes, every trip that I take costs the Department a lot of money. As a cost saving measure, the Department has eliminated all travel that is not deemed ‘mission crucial,’” Washburn said.
The $800 million reduction will affect funding and programs the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) provides to tribes. It will also reduce the BIA and Bureau of Indian Education workforce through employee furloughs in the central, regional and field offices, Washburn said. Tribal employees on many reservations will also be “severely impacted as a result of the federal reductions,” Washburn said.
The money saved by reduced or cut travel costs will be used to fund tribal programs and services or cut the number of days an employee is placed on furlough, Washburn said.
Although Washburn would have liked to attend the annual Indian gaming conference, it was a good time for him to remain in Washington, D.C., he said. “These last few days have been a key time to be in Washington advocating, as I know many of you are doing, with congressional representatives as they wrestle with fiscal issues.”
Washburn thanked NIGA and its member tribes for the good advocacy and hard work” they do for Indian country. “While I cannot be there in person, I will be there in spirit with [NIGA] Chairman Ernie Stevens and the rest of you,” he said.