Bush nominates McCaleb as head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs

Wednesday, April 18th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush is nominating Oklahoma transportation boss Neal McCaleb to become head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

``I'm honored and humbled by President Bush's confidence in considering me for a position of service to the Indian community,'' McCaleb said in a statement Tuesday.

McCaleb, 65, is a member of the Chickasaw Tribe but has never held an elected tribal office. He must be confirmed by the Senate.

``Neal McCaleb will bring a unique blend of skills, experience and background that will serve him well as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs,'' Interior Secretary Gale Norton said. ``His compassion for Indian issues, decisive management skills and ability to facilitate dialogue will help to improve this program and the relationship of the department with Indian tribes around the country.''

McCaleb served on the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission from 1967 until 1972 when President Nixon appointed him to the National Council on Indian Opportunities. He also was a presidential appointee on Ronald Reagan's Commission on Indian Reservation Economics in the 1980s.

He was a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1974 to 1982 and lost a bid for Republican nomination for governor in 1982.

He served as secretary of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation from 1987 to 1990 under Gov. Henry Bellmon and was reappointed by Gov. Frank Keating in 1995.

``Neal has been an outstanding and vital member of my cabinet and is a trusted friend and adviser,'' Keating said. ``Under his leadership, we were able to embark on the largest road-building plan in Oklahoma history.''

McCaleb is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and a native of Oklahoma City.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs oversees the education of 50,000 Indian schoolchildren, administers roughly 2,000 reservation law enforcement officers, and manages an estimated $500 million annually in mining and grazing royalties on tribal land.

McCaleb singled out the trust fund management and the economic status of Indians as one area in clear need of improvement.

The trust funds have been mismanaged by the government for more than a century. Tribes that have sued the government claim the mismanagement has cost them as much as $10 billion and the Interior Department has been ordered by the court to clean up the management of those funds.

He also will be responsible for dealing with the politically contentious issue of gambling on Indian reservations.

``It is a source of great pride to have such an outstanding Chickasaw citizen appointed to this position,'' said Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby. ``Mr. McCaleb is a dedicated professional with a long history of distinguished service in the state of Oklahoma and there is no doubt he will provide excellent leadership at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.''

McCaleb replaces James McDivitt, who has been the acting Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in the Bush administration.

Keating said he will name McCaleb's successor as soon as possible.