Washington Report

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“The Indian Health Service is Here to Stay” – IHS Tribal Self-Governance Advisory Committee Convenes Fall Meeting

On August 30th and August 31st, the Indian Health Service (IHS) Tribal Self-Governance Advisory Committee (TSGAC) held an in-person meeting in Washington, DC. The TSGAC provides an opportunity for Tribal leaders and federal officials to engage on IHS programs, services, and issues with particular focus on strengthening Tribal self-governance. This most recent meeting featured updates and discussions about Fiscal Year 2024 appropriations, IHS’s unobligated funds, and IHS’s standing on the Government Accountability Office’s High Risk List.

National Indian Health Board (NIHB) Director of Budget and Appropriations, Tyler Scribner, presented an analysis of the 2024 Fiscal Year Appropriations legislative outlook. Mr. Scribner discussed the significance of Continuing Resolutions given that the FY 2023 will end on September 30th. Passing a Continuing Resolution would keep the government funded beyond September 30. Fortunately, most of the IHS budget has IHS advance appropriations, so even if a government shutdown were to occur, these functions of IHS would continue.

IHS Director of Office of Finance and Accounting, Jillian Curtis, IHS’ unobligated funds. IHS shared that the Purchased/Referred Care (PRC) Program makes up 16% of prior year unobligated balances. Ms. Curtis shared that part of the root cause for these unobligated balances is the suspension of services during the COVID-19 public health emergency, which lessened referral activity. Congress is concerned about this issue as well, especially as they look to make funding decisions for FY 2024. To manage these unobligated funds, IHS has developed a Status of Funds Dashboard which displays funding balances in real time. IHS is also currently both leading an agency-wide effort to identify causes and solutions for unobligated funds and reviewing unobligated funds by location to update plans for their management. IHS Deputy Director Benjamin Smith also shared that IHS will soon announce Tribal consultation to revise the medical priorities list, which impacts PRC eligibility, to strengthen IHS’ focus on prevention services.

The importance of creating a path off the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) High Risk List was another topic of discussion at the latest TSGAC meeting. The High Risk Report is compiled by the GAO at the start of every Congress to address shortcomings from agencies that “provide critical services.” The GAO first included IHS in its High Risk Report in 2017. Executive Director of Self-Governance Communication and Education Tribal Consortium (SGCETC), Jay Spaan, shared updates from the GAO Tribal and Indigenous Advisory Committee (TIAC) on the High Risk List. Spaan shared that removing IHS from the List is a priority for the TIAC, and it will also be the focus of multiple upcoming meetings for the committee. The TSGAC highlighted that the GAO understanding Tribal sovereignty is essential as TIAC efforts continue.

The meeting closed with reflections from Smith that the close of this fiscal year is going to be “extremely busy” and communicated the IHS leadership’s willingness and enthusiasm to work towards “meaningful results because we know the Indian Health Service is here to stay.”

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