Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) on Oct. 26, highlighted a new Department of the Interior (DOI) Office of Inspector General (OIG) report documenting what he called “shameful” data breaches in federal agency handling of sensitive Native American governments’ financial information. The breach occurred as part of the administration’s larger failure to disburse Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) funding to Tribes that could have prevented severe outbreaks and economic suffering in Native American communities.
The OIG report, available online at https://bit.ly/3jws8HZ, includes two major findings:
The U.S. Department of the Treasury failed to mark Tribal financial data related to applications for CARES Act funding as confidential in inter-agency correspondence, which contributed to inappropriate widespread dissemination; and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) employees, including one who also had an affiliation with the White House, forwarded a spreadsheet containing the data – which included confidential information the recipients did not need and was unrelated to their duties – to officers of Tribes outside the federal government, which was inconsistent with DOI guidance that employees are responsible for “properly using and protecting agency data.”
Grijalva said this week that while the administration has sought to minimize the seriousness of the breach, affected Tribal governments have no such luxury.
“The administration leaked tribes’ confidential financial records to the public much faster than it sent them aid, and yet Republicans continue to be confused about why so many tribes have distrusted the federal government for so long,” Grijalva said. “Public trust in the competence and integrity of the executive branch is never more important than in the midst of a global health crisis. We still need answers to significant questions about this data breach and whether it was purposeful. This was a shameful failure of federal relations with Indian Country, and if American citizens can’t trust the administration to protect them and treat them fairly, our country is not going to recover.”
The OIG report was a partial response to a May 1 letter to DOI Inspector General Mark Greenblatt from Grijalva and the chairs of the five Natural Resources subcommittees. Though the report provides important insights, it does not answer all the key questions, and Grijalva said the Committee will continue to press for a full accounting of the issue.
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