100-year-old law to ben­e­fit In­di­ans fi­nally gets en­acted

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY PHILLIP SWARTS

Some­times it takes the gov­ern­ment a long time to do some­thing. A re­ally long time. In fact, reg­u­la­tions to im­ple­ment leg­is­la­tion passed dur­ing the Wil­liam Howard Taft ad­min­is­tra­tion are just now get­ting around to be­ing im­ple­mented, some 103 years later. Taft signed the Buy In­dian Act into law on June 25, 1910, to give an eco­nomic boost to Amer­i­can In­dian pop­u­la­tions on reser­va­tions. But it has taken more than a cen­tury for the In­te­rior Depart­ment to draft and ap­prove the rules re­quired to of­fi­cially be­gin en­forc­ing the leg­is­la­tion.

The Navy has sus­pended two ad­mi­rals in a broad­en­ing bribery scan­dal that al­ready has en­snared three se­nior naval of­fi­cials.

In­volv­ing charges of prostitution and pay­offs, the scan­dal is the U.S. mil­i­tary’s high­est-pro­file case of of­fi­cer mis­con­duct this year — part of a trend that has caused deep con­cern among Pen­tagon of­fi­cials. The num­ber of sub­stan­ti­ated cases of mis­con­duct has in­creased steadily since 2008, ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics by the De­fense Depart­ment’s in­spec­tor gen­eral.

The Navy is in­ves­ti­gat­ing Vice Adm. Ted Branch, di­rec­tor of naval in­tel­li­gence, and Rear Adm. Bruce Love­less, di­rec­tor of in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tions, on ac­cu­sa­tions of “il­le­gal and im­proper re­la­tions” with a de­fense con­trac­tor who scammed the Navy of mil­lions of dol­lars and bribed naval of­fi­cials with hook­ers and gifts over sev­eral years.

Nei­ther ad­mi­ral has been charged with a crime or vi­o­la­tion, but the Navy said the ac­cu­sa­tions against them in­volve “in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­duct prior to their cur­rent as­sign­ments and flag of­fi­cer rank.”

So far, three Navy of­fi­cials have been ar­rested and charged with giv­ing clas­si­fied

The bill re­quires the depart­ment’s Bureau of In­dian Af­fairs to give pref­er­ence in fund­ing and con­tracts to Amer­i­can In­dian-owned busi­nesses, a sim­i­lar prac­tice em­ployed by “set-aside” poli­cies many gov­ern­ment agen­cies use to sup­port busi­nesses owned by tar­geted groups such as vet­er­ans, mi­nori­ties or women.

But the lan­guage of the 1910 law was am­bigu­ous in how ex­actly this would be done. It reads in part: “So far as may be prac­ti­ca­ble In­dian la­bor shall be em­ployed, and pur­chases of the prod­ucts (in­clud­ing, but not lim­ited to print­ing, not­with­stand­ing any other law) of In­dian in­dus­try may be made in open mar­ket in the dis­cre­tion of the Sec­re­tary of the In­te­rior.”

It took the In­te­rior Depart­ment more than 100 years and 28 sec­re­taries to de­cide how to de­fine “dis­cre­tion” and fin­ish build­ing the rules and reg­u­la­tions to im­ple­ment the leg­is­la­tion. The fi­nal rul­ing on the law was dropped into place in July.

“The pub­li­ca­tion of this fi­nal rule to im­ple­ment the Buy In­dian Act is a ma­jor ac­com­plish­ment for the ad­min­is­tra­tion and a win-win for both In­dian Af­fairs and the Amer­i­can In­dian and Alaska Na­tive busi­ness com­mu­nity,” Kevin Wash­burn, as­sis­tant sec­re­tary for In­dian af­fairs, said back in June. “We ex­pect this will help in­crease eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity in tribal com­mu­ni­ties and pro­vide greater em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties where th­ese busi­nesses are lo­cated.”

Mr. Wash­burn’s state­ment did not re­fer to the slight time lag be­tween the law’s pas­sage and its im­ple­men­ta­tion.

The In­te­rior Depart­ment has bought goods and ser­vices from Amer­i­can In­dian com­pa­nies, but only in 1982 did in­ter­est resur­face in lay­ing down spe­cific reg­u­la­tions. Af­ter work­ing off and on for 30 years, the last piece fi­nally be­came ef­fec­tive July 8 — rules for ad­min­is­tra­tive pro­ce­dures used by var­i­ous In­te­rior Depart­ment bu­reaus.

When the law was en­acted, the Repub­li­can Taft was half­way through his only term in the White House, the coun­try had 46 states, the Ti­tanic was un­der con­struc­tion, and a ques­tion on the U.S. cen­sus that year asked in­di­vid­u­als if they were vet­er­ans of the Civil War.

It’s es­ti­mated that about $45 mil­lion will go to Amer­i­can In­dian-owned and -op­er­ated busi­nesses each year, but that num­ber could grow, said Paula Woess­ner, who wrote about the leg­is­la­tion for the Fed­eral Re­serve Bank of Min­neapo­lis.

“The po­ten­tial eco­nomic im­pact could be much greater, be­cause the rules au­tho­rize the Sec­re­tary of the In­te­rior to del­e­gate the buy-In­dian man­date to other agen­cies in the depart­ment, such as the Na­tional Park Ser­vice and Bureau of Land Man­age­ment,” she wrote.

Un­der the law, the bureau would be re­quired to so­licit bids for con­tracts from In­dian-owned busi­nesses and would be able to seek other of­fers only if no In­dian-owned com­pa­nies ap­plied or if a sin­gle com­pany ap­plied but didn’t have an ac­cept­able of­fer.

The only ex­cep­tion to the pol­icy is con­struc­tion that takes place out­side of Amer­i­can In­dian lands and reser­va­tions, Ms. Woess­ner said.

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