This category will feature news releases from out-of-area government agencies and representatives, as well as events that are not taking place in the four-county area of Grant, Catron, Hidalgo or Luna. For those events please visit Local News Releases.
El PASO, Texas – The Drug Enforcement Administration urges its DEA-registered practitioners and members of the public to be cautious of telephone calls from criminals posing as DEA or other law enforcement personnel threatening arrest and prosecution for supposed violations of federal drug laws or involvement in drug-trafficking activities.
DEA continues to receive reports the general public and practitioners indicating that they have received calls threatening legal action if an exorbitant fine is not paid immediately over the phone. The callers typically identify themselves as DEA personnel and instruct their victims to pay the "fine" via wire transfer to avoid arrest, prosecution and imprisonment.
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, joined committee chairman John Hoven (R-N.D.) to convene an oversight hearing on the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) continued “High Risk” designation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), and the Indian Health Service (IHS). This hearing followed up on the three hearings the committee held last Congress on agencies’ high risk designation in 2017.
“The GAO reports that high-risk Indian programs have made some notable progress in addressing its open recommendations,” Udall said in his opening statement. “However, members of this committee and Tribal leaders are still concerned that this progress isn’t translating into real change. Factors such as underfunding, management accountability, and agency transparency continue to pose barriers to efforts by the IHS, BIE, and BIA to address high risk areas.”
During the hearing, Udall pressed IHS Principal Deputy Director, Admiral Michael Weahkee, on IHS’s failure to address the widespread reports of abuse of Native American children and misconduct by one of its former employees, Dr. Stanley Weber, who worked as an IHS pediatrician in four states over the course of a 21 year period.
“I find the failure of IHS to address the multiple reports of Dr. Weber’s abhorrent conduct with young IHS patients appalling,” said Udall. “IHS officials reportedly ignored reports, retaliated against employees who tried to raise the alarm, and left Native children in the hands of a predator. Has the Service determined why Dr. Weber wasn’t fired after the Billings Area leadership became aware of his misconduct? Why was he allowed to remain an IHS employee and transfer to the Great Plains Area?”
Weahkee could not provide answers to the senator’s questions, but testified that IHS has retained a third party contractor to conduct a complete review of the factors that allowed Weber to remain in the IHS system for so long.
Udall continued, “As far as I am concerned, management at every level failed to do their jobs – and their duties – under federal law…This failure aligns with the concerns raised in this committee’s report of 2010, called the Dorgan report, that IHS management does not follow federal employee misconduct procedures and instead transfers problem employees in a system colloquially referred to as ‘pass the lemon . . .How is IHS working to make sure service units and area management do their job to document and address federal employee misconduct?”
Weahkee responded, “I would first like to start by committing to you that it will not be tolerated to ‘pass bad lemons’ while I am in this seat, and we are going to put the infrastructure in place to ensure that that’s sustainable at the agency moving forward.” He then outlined several new policies that will provide higher ethical standards for healthcare providers and make all IHS employees mandatory reporters.
Udall then asked GAO Director Jessica Farb to review IHS’s history of misuse of employee transfers, administrative leave, and duty reassignments.
After this exchange, Udall drew attention to the Interior Department’s failure to ensure the safety of students at a BIE school, Pine Hill School, in New Mexico.
Udall noted, “Between 2012 and 2018, the Department of Interior spent $1.2 million to fix the fire alarm and lightening protection systems at the Pine Hill School in New Mexico. It is my understanding that the major contributing factor for these cost and timeline overages was inaccurate project scoping and contracting. GAO documented similar issues with facilities contracting in a 2017 report. What is Interior doing to increase management oversight of procurement personnel and contracting officers?”
In response, both BIE Director Tony Dearman and BIA Acting Director Darryl LaCounte committed to improving inter-bureau communication as well as meeting with committee staff on contracting oversight for BIE facilities projects.
The full text of Udall’s opening remarks, as prepared, at the oversight hearing are below.
Thank you, Chairman Hoeven, for scheduling today’s hearing to discuss the status of Indian Programs on the GAO High Risk List. I appreciate your follow through on this important topic.
Last Congress, our Committee held three hearings on the GAO High Risk Report for Indian Programs.
Each hearing demonstrated that the federal government must do better to provide trust and treaty-based services to American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes.
The GAO reports that high risk Indian programs have made some notable progress in addressing its open recommendations.
However, members of this Committee and Tribal leaders are still concerned that this progress isn’t translating into real change. Factors such as underfunding, management accountability, and agency transparency continue to pose barriers to efforts by the IHS, BIE, and BIA to address high risk areas.
As a practical matter, it’s reasonable to ask – how effective are IHS, BIE, and BA reforms in response to GAO’s high risk designation?
As the ranking member on the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, I understand that underfunding has a direct impact on nearly every Indian program – but that impact is particularly acute for programs on the high risk list.
In my home state of New Mexico, there are still serious facility and resource issues at a number of BIE schools, IHS clinics, and BIA programs.
I’ve fought to increase funding at all three agencies but, without continued meaningful investments and adequate appropriations, BIE, IHS, and BIA reforms will be less effective.
At the same time, recent high profile events at the BIE and IHS raise serious questions about management accountability and transparency.
At the BIE, the Bureau has a string of unanswered Congressional letters, school closures due to asbestos, and lack of compliance with federal education laws.
It’s to the point where I have had to call in BIE and BIA leadership to submit weekly updates directly to my office.
And at the IHS, the Weber incident has alarmed many and, to speak frankly, it has sickened me.
For over 20 years, Mr. Weber used his position of trust and authority as an I-H-S doctor to prey on young, innocent victims.
What he did is a travesty. And what IHS didn’t do to intervene – to protect Native children who were patients – is unconscionable.
Even though Mr. Weber has been convicted and sentenced for his crimes in Montana and awaits trial in another federal court for similar crimes, questions remain: who in IHS leadership failed to document and remove Weber from his position within the Service?
To that end, Chairman Hoeven and I sent a letter to HHS Office of Inspector General asking it to investigate whether any current or former IHS staff were complicit in or had knowledge or involvement with Mr. Weber’s misconduct.
While we wait for concrete answers, I expect IHS leadership – here, today – to commit to management reform that ensures –
All future allegations of abuse by medical professionals at I-S facilities are properly investigated; Reports against I-H-S employees who are a danger to patients are not swept under the rug; and Whistleblowers do not fear for their reputations or their livelihoods.
Above all, today’s hearing must be more than just hearing about progress on GAO’s recommendations. I need to see evidence of a cultural shift to improve accountability at the IHS, the BIE, and the BIA. And I need to see a commitment to transparency and ensuring the federal government is upholding trust and treaty responsibilities.
Finally, I will close by noting the Committee’s newly adopted “Rule 4-b”. This rule states that, if the Administration misses the Committee’s 48 hour deadline for submission of testimony, the Administration witness must state on the record why the testimony was late. Thank you, Admiral Weahkee and Ms. Farb, for submitting your testimony on time. But, Mr. Dearman and Mr. LaCounte, please be prepared to start your testimony with an explanation why you did not comply with the Committee’s rule.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to our panel for joining us.
Landmark legislation would ensure equal access to the ballot box for Native peoples
WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and U.S. Representative Ben Ray Luján, along with U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich and U.S. Representatives Deb Haaland and Xochitl Torres Small, led a group of Senate and House Democrats in re-introducing the Native American Voting Rights Act, landmark legislation that would provide the necessary resources and oversight to ensure Native Americans and Alaska Natives have equal access to the electoral process. Udall led the introduction of the Native American Voting Rights Act last Congress.
“For too long, Native Americans have been blocked from exercising their constitutional right to vote,” Udall said. “In 1948 – 70 years ago – my grandfather, Levi Udall, served as Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court where he authored the opinion extending the right to vote to Native Americans living on the reservation. He wrote, ‘To deny the right to vote… is to do violence to the principles of freedom and equality.’ I wholeheartedly agree. But with every election cycle, state and local jurisdictions come up with new ways to deny Native Americans equal access to the ballot box. From eliminating polling and registration locations, to passing strict voter ID laws that target Native Americans living on reservations, these undemocratic barriers have blocked many Native Americans from exercising their basic civil right to vote. It is more important than ever that we pass legislation to ensure that the voices of Native communities in New Mexico and across Indian Country are counted, not discounted.”
SANTA FE, N.M. – A bi-partisan effort to boost New Mexico’s outdoor recreation industry with hundreds of new jobs is making its way through the Legislature.
The measure that creates the New Mexico Division of Outdoor Recreation gained unanimous approval in the New Mexico Senate on March 11, passing 38 to 0. The bill now moves to the state House of Representatives.
Sen. Jeff Steinborn, a Las Cruces Democrat and one of four sponsors, said the new initiative would spur economic opportunities throughout the state and create a specific mandate for the New Mexico Economic Development Department to work with businesses that cater to outdoor enthusiasts from hikers and hunters to kayakers, skiers, birders and cyclers.
Facility Seeking Psychiatric Tech Supervisor, Mental Health Technicians
ALBUQUERQUE, NM – The New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) is holding a rapid hire event on Wednesday, March 13 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m at Sequoyah Adolescent Treatment Center (located at 3405 W. Pan American Fwy NE, Albuquerque).
The treatment center is seeking qualified candidates for Psychiatric Technician Supervisor and Mental Health Technician - Operational, and Mental Health Tech—Operational PRN positions. These positions assist in the daily monitoring of residents, working closely with clinical, education and other milieu staff.
Candidates should bring the following required documents to the hiring event:
SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday announced the confirmation of three appointments to the boards of regents for New Mexico Highlands University and Northern New Mexico College.
In an executive message to the state Senate, the governor submitted to the Rules Committee the following nominees:
Senators successfully fought for measures to permanently authorize Land and Water Conservation Fund, and establish largest new wilderness addition in New Mexico since 1980
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich announced that the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, a sweeping bipartisan public lands package that includes several New Mexico conservation priorities championed by Udall and Heinrich, including landmark legislation to permanently authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), along with three major bills to establish wilderness within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks (OMDP) National Monument and Río Grande del Norte National Monument, was signed into law. The historic package of over 100 land and water conservation bills will protect and expand our nation’s public lands and natural resources, strengthen local economies, and designate over a million acres as wilderness across the country, including 273,000 acres in New Mexico alone.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), members of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, announced that their bipartisan legislation, the Every Kid Outdoors Act, was signed into law as part of the broader John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act. The Every Kid Outdoors Act will provide America's fourth graders and their families free entrance to America's public lands, waters, and historic sites, including national parks – more than 2,000 sites in all.
Since 2015, the Department of the Interior has offered fourth graders and their families free entrance to all federally managed public lands. The Every Kid Outdoors Act codifies this effort into law, which will encourage further collaboration with outside organizations and help leverage additional support, while providing for new and more widespread educational opportunities.
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