INTERIOR:

IG reports outline troubles with tribal lands, interagency contracting

The Interior Department's inspector general released audits yesterday that shed light on two long-standing problems: divided Indian lands and interagency contracting.

The department faces a difficult task in consolidating tribal ownership of lands as part of a $3.4 billion settlement over federal mismanagement of American Indian trust accounts. More than 21,000 parcels of land have 50 or more owners, and Interior now must spend $1.9 billion to buy back such parcels and consolidate them for redistribution to tribes.

A federal judge approved the Cobell v. Salazar settlement last month, but Interior's inspector general found that the department has work to do to ensure it can keep up with appraisal requests. A previous IG audit found that 1,000 appraisal reports were past due; now the agency is hoping to replace its old appraisal system to clear the backlog, according to the IG report.

When complete, the Office of Appraisal Services Information System will track appraisal requests and be a one-stop shop for information on tribal land.

"With OASIS, users will be able to view only the appraisal requests for their tribe or region," wrote Kimberly Elmore, assistant inspector general for audits, inspections and evaluations. "While OASIS is an Internet-based system, OAS is identifying alternative methods for submitting appraisal requests for those tribes with limited Internet access."

Interior officials are also beginning to consult with tribes on how best to consolidate the land. Last month, the department announced Billings, Mont., as the location for the first of six regional government-to-government tribal consultations.

"These regional consultations will provide valuable input in developing an implementation strategy that will benefit tribal communities and help free up trust lands," Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes said at the time. "The consultation process is fundamental to respecting our government-to-government relationship with the tribes, and I look forward to meeting with tribal leaders from the Rocky Mountain and Great Plains regions."

IG auditors also recently reviewed Interior's troubled interagency contracting provider, the Sierra Vista branch of Acquisition Services Directorate. The office provides services to both Interior and the Department of Defense, but the report found that only 2.4 percent of the total contracts awarded in fiscal 2009 and 2010 were for Interior purchases.

"We found that DOI assumes most of the risk associated with operating an interagency contracting office but receives little benefit in return," auditors wrote.

Sierra Vista also "does not adequately perform price reasonableness determinations when awarding contracts or effectively monitor subcontract limitations when warranted," the report found.

Such interagency contracting has long been on the Government Accountability Office's high-risk list. Past reports from the Interior IG office, the Department of Defense IG office and the GAO have found that Sierra Vista violated competition rules, procured products without sufficiently verifying the need and did not adequately review contractor proposals.

Last year, The Washington Post wrote that the office gave a $250 million Army contract to a small, inexperienced Alaska Native corporation, which then subcontracted the majority of the work to other companies, violating contract laws.

Interior spokesman Adam Fetcher said the department is reviewing the IG's recommendations.

Click here for the IG report on the Cobell settlement.

Click here for the IG report on Sierra Vista.

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