Chairman alleges Republicans lawmakers using audit to punish tribes

Thursday, June 8th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Republican lawmakers requested an investigation of the books of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma as a way to punish them for trying to regain control of Fort Reno, the tribes' chairman alleges.

Auditors with the inspector general of the U.S. Interior Department, which oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs, have been at the tribal headquarters in Concho examining how the tribes have been spending their federal funds.

Chairman James Pedro, told the Daily Oklahoman's Washington bureau that GOP lawmakers "are now using the United States government to investigate our tribes because we believe we should be able to have land back that rightfully belongs to us in America."

Pedro said auditors told him the investigation was "usual process and procedure."

But tribal officials say they heard the audit resulted from a request made by Sens. Jim Inhofe and Don Nickles, both R-Okla., and Republican Rep. Frank Lucas.

The three Republicans wrote the agency in April 1998, saying they had been contacted by members of the Finance and Budget Oversight Committee of the tribes. The letter said the committee wanted the tribes' books audited to ensure federal funds were being spent properly.

The inspector general's office notified the lawmakers that it was ready to start auditing the tribes in December.

Lucas said Pedro's allegations are "totally inaccurate."

"In 1998, in response to a request from a member of tribal government, along with the two senators, I requested an audit of how federal funds are being managed by the tribes' business committee," he said.

The acting inspector general replied to Lucas in May 1998 that an audit couldn't begin because an investigation was already underway.

"Specifically, we are examining selected transactions from federal programs, tribal programs, tax commission activities, and bingo and smoke shop operations for fiscal years 1995, 1996 and 1997," a letter from the acting inspector general said.

Once that investigation was complete, the letter stated, the office would evaluate the need for another.

Lucas said he tries to stay out of a tribe's disputes so he is not used as "ammunition" by one side or the other. In this case, he said, a constituent wrote a convincing letter that an audit should be performed.

"They are receiving and using federal dollars, and those are taxpayer dollars," Lucas said.

The Senate takes up a bill to fund an agriculture research station at Fort Reno, a former cavalry outpost from 1875-1908 west of El Reno.

Nickles had the bill amended to prevent the U.S. agriculture secretary from taking any action to shut down the research station and transfer the property to the tribes.

But Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, is considering an effort to strip Nickles' language from the bill when it comes up for a full Senate vote.

The National Congress of American Indians is trying to persuade senators to support Inouye.