Remarks as Prepared for Delivery: USDA Official on Rural Development Programs in Indian Country
WASHINGTON, December 2, 2011- USDA Rural Development Undersecretary Doug O’Brien testified this week before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on Rural Development programs in Indian Country:
“Chairman Akaka, Vice Chairman Barrasso and Members of the Committee, it is my pleasure to join you today to discuss USDA’s role in supporting economic development on tribal lands and our efforts to improve the delivery of our programs.
“USDA Programs span a wide range of areas, including those that directly affect farmers, conservation, on public lands, the Forest Service lands, international trade, food safety, nutrition, housing, business development and more.
“Secretary Vilsack is committed to a USDA that faithfully serves Tribal organizations and individual American Indians and Alaska Natives. The Office of Tribal Relations, located within the Office of the Secretary, works to ensure that relevant programs and policies are easy to understand, accessible, and developed in consultation with the American Indian and Alaskan Native constituents.
“President Obama signed an Executive Order establishing the first White House Rural Council on June 9th, 2011. The White House Rural Council, chaired by Secretary Vilsack, coordinates programs across government to encourage public-private partnerships to promote further economic prosperity and quality of life in rural communities nationwide, and has focused on issues important to tribal communities.
“USDA is also addressing civil rights complaints for new and stronger relationships with the farming and ranching community. In October of 2010, Secretary Vilsack announced the Keepseagle settlement with Native American farmers that, beyond the monetary award, features significant technical assistance.
“As the Deputy Under Secretary of Rural Development, I’d like to spend the balance of my time this morning talking specifically about this mission area and its associated programs.
“Rural Development is a collaborative agency with programs that build upon one another. We offer programs that support essential public facilities and services and that promote economic development in rural areas.
“Rural Development’s network of staff in 47 state-level field offices and 500 area offices work closely with tribes and dedicated partners. Staffs in local offices deliver programs for all three Rural Development agencies – Rural Business and Cooperative Services, Rural Housing Service and Rural Utilities Services. We also maintain a Native American Tribal Coordinator to assist tribes with their development interests at our state-level offices.
“From 2001 to 2010, Rural Development assistance benefiting tribes totaled more than $2.7 billion, including 400 million to expand broadband access in tribal communities. We continued to support Tribal businesses in 2001.
“For example, through the Rural Business Enterprise Grant Program, the Montana Indian Business Alliance received a grant to provide businesses technical assistance to members of Indian Tribes of Montana. The Wind River Development Fund in Wyoming also received a grant to conduct a feasibility study for the development of a joint venture construction project to build a new health clinic in Fort Washakie, Wyoming to serve residents of the Wind River Indian Reservation.
“While we have been proud to partner with tribal communities and members on important projects, we believe that we can do better. And we have utilized the Tribal Consultation process as directed by President Obama in 2009, to learn about how we can adjust our programs to better fit the needs of Indian Country. In 2010 and 2011, Rural Development conducted twenty direct government-to-government consultations, seven regional consultations, and countless other roundtables, listening sessions and meetings.
“Not only have we listened in the Consultations. We have already acted on the wise counsel provided. For example, we expanded the definition of small businesses in the Rural Energy for America Program, a program that provides grants and loans for renewable energy production, to explicitly include Tribal Section 17 Corporations and other similar Tribal Corporations as eligible applicants.
“Rural Development recently released an administrative notice to clarify the eligibility of AMERIND Risk Management Corporation as an insurer for Single Family Housing Direct Loan programs. Historically, insurance and insurance-like products have been unavailable, difficult to access, or expensive on trust lands owned by tribes and tribal members. Our efforts in working with AMERIND to bring them into the insurer pool for RD projects will make access to our housing funding products more amenable in Indian Country.
“Rural Development’s programs are a critical component to supporting, growing and ultimately sustaining rural communities. While Rural Development program funding for fiscal year 2012 has been reduced, we are committed to continuing to improve our support and partnership with those in Tribal communities.
“Again, thank you for the opportunity to be here today, Mr. Chairman. I look forward to addressing any questions you and other members of the Committee might have.”