By Jeff Armstrong
Niles Cesar, a BIA regional director forced out of the bureau’s Alaska office for alleged mismanagement and fraud, is slated in late August to take the reins at the BIA’s Midwest Regional Office, which exercises jurisdiction over 35 reservations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan.
A February 9, 2009 report by Interior Department Inspector General Earl Devaney concluded that “the Alaska region’s inattention to expenditures and failure to manage its program has repeatedly jeopardized the success of Alaskan Native community roads projects and caused millions of dollars to be wasted or unaccounted for.”
Focusing on the BIA’s administration of the Indian Reservation Roads Program (IRRP), the report found that just 10% of the $32 million in annual program funding was monitored to see if the work was actually performed. Of vital importance to isolated Native communities, the IRRP now stands to lose its share of $3 million in federal stimulus funds appropriated to the state based on the report’s recommendation that any additional federal funds be conditioned upon the implementation of sound management practices.
In one case cited in the report, a Native village diverted $1.6 million of a $2 million grant from road work in critical areas to those deemed unnecessary to IRRP engineers. After six years, the main road has yet to be completed. Another Native community used a $500,000 federal transportation grant to purchase a restaurant/saloon, with no sanctions by the BIA.
The report also revealed a systemic problem with fraudulent wage claims by road construction workers, two of whom received more than $100,000 in a single year, nearly double the typical wage. Although road building is all but impossible during the harsh Alaskan winters and is usually suspended by late October, the BIA approved large overtime claims for construction workers during the winter months.
Cesar, who could not be reached for comment at his Alaska office, apparently anticipates a leisurely term of office before retiring after a year. He was quoted in the press as saying he intends to be a “snowbird,” spending his summers in Alaska and his winters elsewhere.
The new midwest director, however, may get more than he bargained for at the Minneapolis regional office, which among other things, will likely have to sort out a brewing constitutional conflict within the largest tribe in the region, the six-reservation Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. In a controversial move, White Earth recently threatened to pull out of the MCT under a separate constitution.