Bureau of Indian Affairs Commonly Blows Money on Illegal Leases, Says Inspector General


Danny Choo

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, it seems, has trouble following the rules when leasing, to the extent that it blows tens of millions of dollars on property that it doesn't need, or that was acquired without proper authorization. The problem is so widespread that the Department of the Interior found problems with every single lease examined in a recent Inspector General's report. That report was only a sample of the BIA's activity, so the problem just may be a bit more widespread.

The BIA's taste for blowing rental agreements was first noted by the General Services Administration, which is sort of the federal goverment's office manager. The GSA referred the problem to the Department of the Interior's Office of the Inspector General, with much astonishment to ensue.

From the Inspector General:

OIG sampled 14 BIA leases identified in the GSA report and found issues with all of them. These issues resulted from noncompliance with GSA guidelines to insufficient BIA guidance and inadequate training. We found leases extended without GSA approval, leases exceeding GSA square footage limits, leases established by individuals without qualifications to do so, and contracting officers who did not follow guidelines. BIA's inability to accurately report all lease data back to GSA also made it impossible for GSA to analyze post-lease performance data for the BIA leases we reviewed. BIA expended more than $32 million for leases that exceeded GSA space limits and leasing requirements.

Yes, $32 million is barely walking-around money for a government that turns wealth into ashes in billion-dollar lots. But every lease the OIG scrutinized in its sample had somehow been screwed up.

Two of the problematic properties were rented by a BIA superintendent in Montana who had no authority to sign contracts and who never reported the deal to the BIA's central office, so the Bureau had no idea these facilities existed, even as it paid for them. In other cases, the BIA spent well beyond what it was allowed without specific congressional authorization.

In slap-on-the-wrist fashion, the Inspector General recommended the BIA:

  1. Develop and implement policies and procedures that ensure compliance with GSA guidance.
  2. Develop a database accurately reflecting the status of leases in BIAs inventory and,
  3. Ensure BIA contracting officers receive appropriate training in lease administration and management.

That's right, almost two centures after its founding, the Bureau of Indian Affars still hasn't got a handle on acquiring property the right way. Then again, it doesn't just take it any more; it overpays instead. Which is something of an improvement.