RIVERTON — The joint programs run by the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone will now be funded through advance monthly installments, a punishment imposed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the tribes’ failure to submit audit reports for the previous three fiscal years.
“Moreover, the bureau reserves the right to impose additional sanctions, including withholding funds, if audits are not submitted in a timely manner,” the BIA said in a Oct. 29 letter.
Council members told The Ranger the imposition of sanctions comes as no surprise.
“We have worked toward making sure that these sanctions don’t affect our day-to-day operations and ability to serve our tribal members,” the Wind River Intertribal Council said in a prepared statement. “All of our current shared programs are receiving their funds and are able to operate under no restrictions.”
Typically, federal funding for a tribe’s “self-determination programs” is provided as a lump sum at the beginning of a contract’s term or in quarterly installments.
Leslie Gourneau, awarding official for the BIA’s Billings office, told the tribes that standard payments will resume once the tribes submit audit reports for fiscal years 2015-2017 as required by federal law.
Those years include the period of strained relations between the tribes.
After the tribes worked jointly as the Joint Business Council for almost a century, the Northern Arapaho Business Council opted to pull out of the JBC in 2014.
After major leadership changes on both business councils in 2016, the tribes renewed their joint collaborations in 2017 under a new name: the Wind River Inter-tribal Council.
Council members said a new financial policy and a new accounting system should help manage an “holes in the system.”
“It’s important to note that these issues with past audits occurred during the time the Joint Business Council was dissolved and during times when former business councils were running joint programs in the JBC,” the WRITC stated. “This new WRITC is working diligently to fix those issues and ensuring that it doesn’t happen again with future audits. … The work we’re putting into these new processes will be reflected in our future audits. We hope tribal members understand that this is a process that will take time to repair and our main focus is providing proper financial management.”
With the new sanctions, the BIA’s side-stepped the tribes’ September request to reconcile the the funding dispute through the Cooperative Audit Resolution and Oversight Initiative process.
First developed by the U.S. Department of Education in the 1990s, the CAROI process differs from traditional audit resolution by “improving communication in a ‘team’ environment, developing a sense of trust among government officials, rather than utilizing a more ‘traditional’ resolution approach, reliant solely on written communication.”
After being rebuffed for a CAROI resolution, the council-members say they are “diligently working” to bring the tribes’ joint programs back into a favorable status.
“We’ve had several meetings to discuss all stakeholders’ roles in financial management,” the WRITC stated. “Those meetings have been productive despite some hurdles we still need to jump over. A lot of it also depends on whether the BIA is willing to work with us in a constructive way.”
Council members said there are also ongoing efforts to submit the outstanding audits.
However, the tribes have already faced challenges in that effort.
Earlier this year, CPAs at Fagnant, Lewis & Brinda had been working to prepare the books for an audit of the 2015 transportation fund — typically the tribes’ largest joint contract.
However, those CPAs forfeited that effort. In a Aug. 8 letter, the CPAs said they were unable to complete audit preparation because revenues had not been properly recorded in the accounting systems, there was missing documentation of expenses, federal awards and associated compliance requirements were not tracked, and the account was also “missing or lacking documentation that would allow us to reconcile project funding to grant documentation which would have then enabled us to determine what is an account receivable and/or deferred revenue.”
The initial work also identified conflicting information about how much federal funding was received.
The BIA’s funding sheet said the agency disbursed $8.9 million to the transportation program.
However, only $8.4 million arrived into the transportation bank account.
The accounting software for the transportation fund only reported $7.9 million in received revenue. The CPAS said they could not reconcile the disparities “after extensive research and inquiry.”