Lawsuit settlement will allow consolidation of Indian lands

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Divided Indian land presents problems for both Native Americans and the federal government—land plots become so tiny that productivity is limited and the administration of thousands of land claims becomes costly. The recent approval of the Cobell lawsuit settlement, a class-action suit against the U.S. government, will give $1.9 billion toward land consolidation.

Disputes about inherited Indian land have plagued the Native American community for decades. The General Allotment Act of 1887 divided tribal lands into parcels and allotted them to individual Native Americans. Land owners passed portions of the land to heirs and with each passing generation, division increased. Some of the original allotments are owned by as many as 1,000 heirs, making any benefit from the land essentially useless.

The Cobell lawsuit prompted a review by the inspector general at the Department of the Interior. “The Department has not developed a comprehensive plan that will guide its efforts to reduce Indian land fractionation,” the report said.

If an Indian tribe owns less than a majority of the claims to a parcel of land, it must seek approval from the owners in order to lease the land for any type of development. “This need for approval has essentially stopped economic development on some tracts of land,” the report said.

The $1.9 billion will allow the U.S. government to buy land claims from willing owners, and then turn over the land to tribes.

FAST FACT: 267,000 owners have 4.1 million claims on more than 10 million acres of allotted Indian lands.

Following are other new watchdog reports released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), various federal Offices of Inspector General (OIG), and other government entities.

NATIONAL SECURITY

  • There is growing concern that critical reconstruction programs in Afghanistan are at risk due to poor planning, insufficient oversight, and the inability of Afghan authorities to sustain them. Since 2002, the U.S. government has invested $56 billion in Afghan reconstruction. (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction)
  • A new study reveals a strong link between national security and the strength of the economy. Recent international events, like globalization, the rise of China, unsustainable debt, trade imbalances, and high unemployment rates have all had an effect on national security. (Congressional Research Service)
  • President Obama announced a revised approach to missile defense in Europe last year, to defend against existing threats and build up defenses over four phases. The DoD has not established the long-term costs of implementing the new program, and faces key management challenges. These shortfalls could result in inefficient planning, limited oversight, and increased costs. (GAO)

MISC.

  • The Farm Service Agency lent $169.5 million in stimulus-funded loans for farmers’ direct operating costs. A sample review of 120 borrowers whose loans totaled $14.4 million found the FSA generally lent to eligible borrowers and had adequate control over the loan process. (Inspector General of USDA)

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