Several Republicans in Congress say President Barack Obama has offered more rhetoric on tribal job creation than meaningful, measurable action.
Republican Indian affairs leaders in both the U.S. Senate and House are pointing to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s failure to release tribal economic and employment reports under the Obama administration to date, in violation of biennial reporting requirements mandated by federal law. The last such report was released in 2007; ones were due in 2009 and 2011, but were not released, Interior officials say, due to “methodology inconsistencies.”
Such reports have been released going back to President Ronald Reagan, although their reliability was sometimes questioned due to the challenge of collecting data from the hundreds of federally recognized tribes.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) this year halted the release of some jobs data recently collected from tribes, because it said the information contained “inaccurate and unreliable survey data.”
Despite the lack of reliable data, in an October interview with Indian Country Today Media Network Obama said that his administration has made progress on Indian country job creation on several fronts—infrastructure projects, clean energy, broadband, school renovation, and health care among them. His administration spent approximately $3 billion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) on such tribal projects, according to the administration.
“Considering this administration has failed to release the tribal economic data, it’s hard to take what the president says seriously,” says Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, chairman of the House Subcommittee on American Indian and Alaska Native Affairs. “While the rhetoric coming from this White House sounds good on its face, the fact of the matter is we don’t have statistics to back up the president’s assertions relating to his economic program in Indian country.”
Young says the Obama administration has actually blocked tribal job growth. “As someone who has dealt with tribal issues for over four decades, what I can say for certain is that this administration continues to stand in the way of tribal self-determination. Whether we’re talking about the hydraulic fracturing rule proposed by the Interior Department or how the EPA rescinded a Clean Air Act permit previously issued to the Navajo Nation to build one of the nation’s largest clean coal power plants—this administration has done little to advance tribal self-determination.
“If we want to improve economic conditions in Indian country, it’s time we get the federal government out of the way.”
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, and vice-chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, concurs with Young’s charge that the administration has offered no concrete evidence that its programs are creating tribal jobs. “With decades of chronically high rates of unemployment on many of our country’s Indian reservations, in some cases as high as 80 percent, folks in Indian country deserve facts—not more rhetoric,” Barrasso says. “It’s time for the Obama administration to release the missing jobs report immediately.”
Even some Democratic legislators, including Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., say the Obama administration has more work to do in this area. “A lot of good things have been done, but I think we can always do better when it comes to job creation,” he said in a recent ICTMN interview.
The Interior Department has taken responsibility for the missing reports, and officials there have been saying one will be released in 2013, although no one in the Obama administration has to date explained if there will be ramifications for the broken law. It also isn’t known if OMB will allow the release of any tribal jobs data, given its concerns about the recent data.
Kevin Washburn, the new Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, is holding consultation sessions with concerned tribal leaders on the matter. “It is important to identify the best policies and strategies for promoting economic development in Indian country,” Washburn said in an October 18 press release. “As we begin to develop the 2013 Labor Force Report, I encourage tribal leaders to provide us with their insights and thoughts on how the report can be accurately and effectively produced and can best help tribes address job training and employment needs.”
Washburn noted in the release that Public Law 102-477, the Indian Employment, Training, and Related Services Demonstration Act of 1992, requires the Department to publish the American Indian Population and Labor Force Report at least once every two years.